by Rev. Dr. Krista S. Givens
Today as we remember those who’ve gone before us, our saints and those we loved and lost, we may feel alone. But this is a day to be reassured that we are never alone, our loved ones are present with us, intertwined in a heavenly web of saints keeping watch, guiding us, loving us from afar as we love them.
We, as a local church, exist and thrive and live within an amazing connection – a web – that includes our brothers and sisters in East District, our family within the California-Pacific Annual Conference and our global family in the United Methodist Church. We are all connected in the one body of Christ; the body that extends across boundaries (of earth and heaven) and beyond geographical barriers; the body that breaks down walls we create, walls of language and cultural differences. We are all part of the family of God, the family of Christians, and the family of Methodists in this world.
Our scripture lesson today tells the story of a special example of that familial connection shared by individuals and demonstrates the way God cares about us and how we should care for one another. The Book of Ruth is about returning – returning to one’s homeland, returning to God, returning to who we are supposed to be. The Hebrew word for return (sub) occurs twelve times in the first chapter, and is the same word that is used to mean repent in the Old Testament or to turn away and worship foreign gods.
“Return to me.” God tells us. “Return to me.”
Here in Ruth, chapter one, we are introduced to Naomi, an older woman whose husband and grown sons had all died during THEIR OWN natural disaster – the great famine. This left Naomi unprotected: she was without a husband and without sons, a dangerous place for a woman in the Ancient World. Furthermore, she was living in a foreign land, away from the connection of her family. So she decides, in her time of need, to travel away from Moab and back to Bethlehem (which in Hebrew means literally The House of Bread) to reconnect with her family and to escape the hunger and death and tragedy of her recent past.
But she was not alone, her two daughters in law (the wives of her dead sons, widows themselves) were with her… so she encouraged them to return to their own families and while Orpah did just that, Ruth did not.
Ruth stayed with Naomi. Ruth did not leave her mother-in –law. Ruth said to her, “You are my family now and forever. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”
What an amazing statement of commitment! Forsaking her own self-protection, Ruth stepped out into the unknown to remain connected the woman who would now be her family. Many of us have done something very similar, left all that we knew to create a new family, a new series of connections in a new community, just as Ruth did.
“The people of Israel carefully distinguished among the other persons who lived among them. They used zar and nokri (“foreigner”) to describe those like the Canaanites, Ammonites, and Moabites who had no part in Israel, but used ger (“alien” or “sojourner”) for one “who comes from outside the community but who settles within the community…The ger is very much like what we call today ‘resident alien’. He or she may be a refugee or an immigrant, settling into the community but still an outsider who brings a different communal identity. “ (1)
Here, in this church, we come from our own cultures, our own languages and customs, our own ideas about God and the church and we join together to create not what we had there, but something else, something else, a new culture, something born of all of us, something born of the combination of us all!
Ruth represents us travelers in this story, leaving her original culture, mixing with the existing culture and creating something new. But if we are Ruth, who is Naomi?
- Perhaps it is a spouse – “where you go I will go.”
- Perhaps a new family – “Where you lodge I will lodge.”
Whoever is our Naomi, we – as Ruth – must commit wholly to the support, love, care and nurture of the other.
As a congregation in Walnut, a body of Christ in this area of the world, we are joined with the other parts of the body in an inextricable way. As Paul writes in Romans 12:4-6 “4For as in one body we have many members, and not all the members have the same function, 5so we, who are many, are one body in Christ, and individually we are members one of another. 6We have gifts that differ according to the grace given to us.”
We are intimately connected with one another, and our fidelity to one another is a powerful reminder of the fidelity of God. God is committed to us and will remain with us through all our travels in this life.
As we celebrate the gift of Holy Communion today, let us remember the body of Christ throughout the world: the ears and eyes and hands and feet of this one body and let us remember that God has knit us together – one to another – into a single entity for a single purpose: to be the love of God in this world. Let us commit to one another: “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay.” Your future is my future and your God my God. We are one body, blessed by God and bound together as one family.
1. Robert B. Kruschwitz, Christian Reflection, The Center for Christian Ethics at Baylor University, found on 2008.http://www.baylor.edu/content/services/document.php/68599.pdf
Image: “Ruth and Naomi” by He Qi, 2001