This sermon was preached on July 12, 2020 at Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church in Holladay, UT. It can be viewed on our YouTube Channel: Our Saviour’s Lutheran Church SLC
The texts were:
Ruth 1: 1-17, 3: 1-5, 4: 13-17
It’s been heartbreaking and perhaps a bit frustrating witnessing and experiencing how our cities, states and nation is wrestling with being community right now. It seems that we are fracturing into several pieces at a time when we need to be cohesive. We know that our actions don’t happen in a vacuum, we know that we impact one another, we want people valued, we want people cared for, we want people to be safe and we want those things for ourselves. We hear the words of Jesus echo in our ears from Matthew 25: “when you do this for the least of these, you do it to me.” As people who follow Jesus, who take seriously the mandate to love our neighbor as ourselves and to lay down our life for our friends, we often ask ourselves, “what does that really look like in my every day life to care for people whom I don’t know, who aren’t like me, and think and live differently from me? What does unity look like when there are so many pieces?” The challenges in our communities loom large and finding common story, identity and unity is paramount.
How we live together as people has been a struggle since, well, there were people! We have lots of examples in the news, history, literature and our own Bible of how it most often goes poorly. But every now and again we get a glimpse of what it looks like to live together well in community and when we see it, we cling to it. Such as the book of Ruth in our biblical witness. The book of Ruth is beloved by both Jewish and Christian believers because it is an example of what living together out of true love, love that God has first shown us, can look like. How people with many different traditions, nationalities, religions and identities bring their pieces together for a vision of a unified future and story.
Our first glimpse of caring community in Ruth occurs when Naomi’s husband and sons die, she and her daughters-in-law are left alone and childless. Naomi decides to return to her homeland that they had fled ten years earlier, because of famine. Naomi’s daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, are Moabites, enemies of the Israelites and would be not welcome in Judah, so she sends them back to their homes-which is the safe and expected thing to do. Orpah goes, but Ruth, stays with Naomi, perhaps recognizing that the older woman shouldn’t be alone in her grief, shouldn’t be alone period. Ruth cared for Naomi more than she worried about her fate as a Moabite in Judah. Ancient tradition didn’t dictate that Ruth had any obligation to Naomi, but she went with her anyway, together is better than alone.
Naomi in turn, realizes that Ruth should be remarried, as in the ancient world, women were protected and only had value in connection with male relatives. Helping Ruth connect and marry Boaz, was a gesture of care that Naomi certainly didn’t have to do either. And then we meet Boaz, who immediately recognized the vulnerability of Ruth, a foreign immigrant, poor widow gleaning food from the fields and gave her protection, extra food and status among his own people. That was also not necessary or expected. But it was the kind and righteous thing to do, Boaz seemed to recognize that anyone in need in the community would impact the community. Ruth and Boaz’s relationship was also unlikely as she was a Moabite. Although we find out that Naomi and Boaz are related, Boaz doesn’t have any obligation to Ruth, and marrying an outsider, was not accepted. But the community seemed to support their marriage as when Ruth gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, the townswomen offered Naomi the affirmation that Ruth was worth more than seven sons-that alone is remarkable. Ruth’s piece in the community was valued.
People caring for one another’s safety, health and welfare even if we’re not related, are outsiders, different social statuses, is what God desires for us. This story gives us a glimpse of what it looks like when people live God’s commandments out of love and not from fear. When we live from the promises of God’s unwavering, unending and unconditional love, we can live for each other. As we see in this story, it’s actions that connect us to our own humanity that make a difference, such as staying with someone in their grief, offering food to someone in need from our plenty, welcoming and befriending people from different lands, different faiths and different viewpoints. The book of Ruth shows us that our everyday lives rooted in God’s love, can ripple through the community and the generations. These caring people had a piece in God’s larger story of salvation, wholeness and redemption through Jesus. Jesus calls us to offer our piece in the story too, rooting ourselves in God’s love to live in care for others, to show the world that life together in harmony and unity is possible. We are the beloved community.
We, as followers of Jesus, witness that our identity is not who we are as individuals, but our identity is found in whom we belong, God. We do things that might inconvenience ourselves because as part of God’s people, we care for our neighbor who needs us. Right now, we wear masks, we pay attention with our in person interactions and the places we decide to go, we create welcome and care for immigrants and refugees, we listen to voices that are grieving and despondent from death, suffering and injustice. We don’t act or speak from fear, self-interest or scarcity but like the townspeople, offer our voices of affirmation and value for people who typically are not affirmed or valued in our community.
In our baptism, we are set apart to do this work that Jesus calls us to do: to identify with the outcast, the hungry, the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner, the thirsty, the poor and to care for them as though they were Christ. Jesus knows that when we live in this way, caring for each other today, we are also determining our future. Together, we can write and tell a story of a future, like Ruth, that points to God’s work of collecting the fractured pieces of ourselves today and creating community that is loving, hopeful, safe and unified. And we offer our piece in God’s work so that humanity and creation can be whole. Thanks be to God.
Blessing of the Masks:
You are invited to hold or wear your mask as we bless this object that signifies caring community at this time:
Holy God, throughout history you have provided us with items, knowledge and science that witness to your care and attentiveness to our bodies. You stitched clothing for the first people, you instructed Noah to build an ark, you gave food and water to the Israelites, your Son Jesus, fed 5000 with a few loaves and fishes, healed suffering bodies and minds and he broke bread and poured wine so that we may be one with Christ. These masks are a sign of this oneness, of selfless love and care for our each other. Bless all who wear and all who see them, and may they be a reminder that together, we build a strong community of love and care for all. May your peace that passes all understanding be with us all. Amen.