In the interests of recycling and saving the planet, here is a thought I had earlier in the week which I shared with the Baptist Ministers of the Eastern Baptist Association… perhaps it will bless you.
My daily readings this week have been based on Ruth, and on Monday I read this from Ruth 1:
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 2 The man’s name was Elimelech, his wife’s name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
3 Now Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, 5 both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 When she heard in Moab that the LORD had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, Naomi and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the LORD show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. 9 May the LORD grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? 12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me-even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons- 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the LORD’s hand has gone out against me!”
14 At this they wept again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
I know the story so well that it’s easy for me to skip over what happened at the beginning to get to the good news part of the narrative. But to do so does not do justice to what happened to Naomi and her family. Naomi starts off as a refugee – fleeing famine with her husband and sons. They settle into a foreign country and (contrary to God’s command) her sons marry local, non-Jewish women. Tragically not only Naomi’s husband but also her sons died prematurely (the flight from the famine did not preserve their lives) and eventually, hearing that the famine had lifted, Naomi decided to return home (presumably so she could die and be buried with her ancestors). Let’s remember too that this is part of Jesus’ family history and that his parents too were refugees. Perhaps that speaks loudly to us today about how refugees are being treated by our nation and across the world – an unwelcome problem to be dealt with rather than people to be saved and blessed.
We usually concentrate on Ruth (the book is named after her) but let’s not ignore that Orpah at first was willing to go with Naomi too until Naomi persuaded her to stay. That level of devotion is to be commended, but perhaps Orpah’s heart was not really in it so she was willing to stay in Moab and going back to her gods (had she adopted Naomi’s God?).
And then we get to some of my favourite words in the Bible: Ruth’s response to Naomi’s attempt to get her to stay behind. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried…” It’s an astonishing lifelong commitment to her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law’s God. As the story unfolds we find that these words were not only a promise, they were also a prophecy. These words are some of my favourite words in the Bible because we used them in our marriage vows. They imply a letting go of the past and a leaving behind, but more than that they announce a new beginning and a new level of commitment.
At a recent Induction I reflected that in some ways an Induction is a bit like a wedding: there are mutual promises made in a church. But we know that these promises are not ‘until death do us part’ but ‘until God calls me somewhere new’. However, can we say Ruth’s words about the people to whom God has called us for this season? Even the ones we love but struggle to like? Even our strongest critics? Are we any less committed to these people than Ruth was to Naomi – right up to the moment when we say the final ‘amen’ on the closing benediction of our season in that church?
Be blessed, be a blessing