October 31, 2021
In a lot of our family histories, an important story is always how our ancestors got to where they were going, and met the people that would eventually became part of our family too. We all have that story of how our family came over from the old country, and how they settled here in America—whether that was just a generation ago, or a couple hundred years ago. Whatever the case is, that crucial time when our family made that move became part of the family lore and influenced who we understand ourselves to be today.
Ruth is actually a story of exactly that. We heard the opening lines of that story, where we learned that this family left the Promised Land as refugees when there was a famine, and went over to the land of Moab, across the Dead Sea, to see what kind of life they could make there. Elimelech, the patriarch of the family, took his wife Naomi and his two sons Mahlon and Chilion. Elimelech, the story tells us, died a short time after, and Naomi found her sons wives from among the people. Then something happened about ten years in—both Mahlon and Chilion died.
Now Naomi found herself in a really bad situation. Her husband was gone, and both of her sons were gone. It wasn’t just the pain of losing loved ones; she also didn’t have any safety or security anymore. Her daughters-in-law couldn’t keep her safe, or provide for her, or anything else. So she decided to pack up and head back to Israel. Orpah and Ruth, she insisted, should stay behind and try again. They still had time to find husbands and have children. They might still have a future in this land. It was too late for Naomi.
Then, if you know anything about this story you know this part, Ruth gets stubborn. She famously declared to Naomi, “where you go, I will go; and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God.” Ruth is loyal to a fault, sticking around even after Orpah saw the wisdom of Naomi’s request for them to head home and try again. There’s an unwillingness to turn back and forget the mother-in-law she had for ten years that makes Ruth this image of loyalty that puts her at the center of this family story.
But the decision to stick with Naomi is made even more amazing when you think about what Naomi’s position was in society. She was an elderly, childless widow in a society that operated on the idea that children take care of their parents in their old age. She was likely only going back to Judah because the prospects of begging among her own people were better than begging among the Moabites. Ruth, by insisting on sticking with her, is really choosing poverty, marginalization, and likely death. Naomi is so confused by Ruth’s foolishness that she decides arguing isn’t going to be worth it.
But the thing is, the story keeps going after we finished today’s reading. And that’s when we start to see how Ruth’s decision to stick with Naomi was Ruth’s grace in the face of Naomi’s brokenness. Ruth was unwilling to leave Naomi alone, to beg in her old age, to be at the mercy of whatever whims society had for her. She followed Naomi home and provided for her, going out into the fields and gleaning from the harvest so they had enough to eat. She followed Naomi’s advice when she met Boaz, and in the process gave Naomi life in more ways than one. Despite Naomi having nothing at all to offer Ruth, Ruth chose to go with Naomi and care for her. As much as this is a family history, it’s also a story of what grace looks like.
Because much like Naomi had nothing to offer Ruth that Ruth couldn’t get for herself, we have nothing to offer God that God can’t get without us. But Ruth chose Naomi, and God chooses us. Think of the grace in that! God is wholly content with God’s own self. The Trinity is a perfect community of one-in-three. Yet God decides to look at us, God’s creations that can only give to God what God has already given to us, and God decides “yes, where you go, I will go; and where you stay, I will stay.” God’s grace is that there is nothing we can or need to bring to the table for God to choose us first.
It’s why we take the time each year to remember the Reformation. Today, when we wear red, it’s not to celebrate our Northern European Lutheran heritage, singing “A Mighty Fortress” and reminiscing about all the wonderful things about 16th century theology. Today we are setting aside the time to specifically focus on how absolutely spectacularly important this central truth is: that God chooses us, not the other way around. That’s what justification by grace through faith alone is. It’s when God chooses to be with us, to save us from ourselves, to fill us up with new life, to renew us into people who are even able to show love and grace and mercy to others. Today we celebrate how God is like Ruth.
Because God is like Ruth. When we, like Naomi, insist that we have nothing to offer, God chooses to stay. When we, like Naomi, want to push God away, God insists in sticking close. When we, like Naomi, find ourselves destitute and impoverished in the world, God will go out and gather the gleanings to bring home for us. When we, like Naomi, live in the fear that all is lost, that there is no hope for the future, God finds us a family and brings life. There’s no earning that. There’s no deserving that. There’s no “be good enough, ask me into your heart first, then I will come and show you grace” in that. There is only God deciding “you are my person, and I will not leave you no matter what.”
So let’s be reminded of the message of God’s salvation by grace alone woven into this wonderful little family story in the book of Ruth. Let’s be comforted by the way God rejects the notion of earning your keep, choosing instead to bless us without measure simply because God chooses to. Let’s accept that there really is nothing we need to do to earn God’s grace and love and salvation, because God has already made that decision for us. And let’s live in such a way that others will see that in us too, because the world is too filled with people who think we need to do something first in order to earn God’s love.
God chooses us, and God always will. “Where you go, I go; and where you stay, I stay.” Thus it is now, and evermore shall be. That’s the good news.
Thanks be to God. Amen.