In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. And they said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.” Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. And she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” And when Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more. So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” (Ru 1:1-19, ESV)
Grace and peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Two men were traveling in a deep woods. All at once they were confronted with a huge bear. One of the men, thinking only of his own safety quickly climbed a tree. The other, who was unable to climb, was now unable to fight t ferocious animal by himself flopped on the ground and played dead, because he had heard that bears won’t touch a dead body.
It must have worked because the bear sniffed at the man for a moment and then being satisfied that he was indeed dead, left him be. When the danger was past, the man in the tree came down, saying, “It almost looked as if that bear whispered something into your ear!”
“He did,” answered the other. “He said it isn’t wise to keep company with a person who would desert his friend in a moment of danger.” The story is one of Aesop’s fables.
There’s an old joke about a motorcyclist who took a girl named Ruth for a ride, hit a bump and so he continued on “Ruthlessly.” Really there’s more of a pun there than most of us realize. You see, the name Ruth actually means “friend” or “companion” so the ruthless biker was also “friendless.” But the name can also mean “to be satisfied” or “refreshed.” It’s actually what we find in the book of Ruth that God has given to us. In that account we see that Ruth is a true friend, in the very best sense of the word. She refreshed Naomi her mother-in-law even when Naomi was old.
The story is a particularly wonderful one. It takes place at a time before Israel had a king, some 400 years before Jesus was born. There was a man named Elimelech. He lived in Bethlehem with his wife, Naomi and his two sons, Mahlon and Chilion. When a famine struck the area they packed up all they had and moved to Moab (which was on the exact opposite side of the Dead Sea). Moab was a well watered highland so the drought and famine didn’t affect the people there. While they were there, some ten years, Naomi lost her husband. We don’t know why he died there is no reason given. Soon afterwards it seems, the sons married Moabite women. Their names were Orpah and Ruth. Then tragedy struck again and the two sons also died. Again we aren’t told why, weather it was a plague or an accident, doesn’t really matter. Naomi and her two daughters-in-law were left to themselves. Now since she heard that the famine in Bethlehem was over, Naomi decided to return home.
At first the two women joined her. But Naomi insisted that they go back to their parent’s homes, where they could begin their lives again. Both women refused the first time but after a second pleading Orpah did exactly what was asked. Ruth, however, vowed to stay no matter what. And here is where we find the words that we most often associate with Ruth. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17, ESV) These words are words of true friendship; they go far beyond family loyalty and duty. Ruth lives up to her name by becoming Naomi’s friend, companion and comfort.
Naomi and Ruth seem to have a remarkable friendship, almost twin like. Similar to the bond we sometimes see in “identical” twins. Some of you may have been fortunate to have that kind of friendship. For some it is in marriage. Some find it in bonding with a child who has grown. Still others find this kind of relationship in old school mates, co-workers, army buddies, neighbors, fishing companions, or teammates.
These people are people you trust. You enjoy their company and seek out times to be with them. You enjoy the same kinds of activities, talk long into the night, relax, work, laugh and cry together. Most of the time and in most ways… you are true companions. There is something wonderful about that kind of partnership, that kind of relationship. They are a glimpse of the kind of relationship God would have with us.
But there are always times when friends can’t be in complete agreement. Imagine two people standing in a rowboat. If both of them leaned over the same side of the boat they’d both end up in deep water. Sometimes friends, too, have to disagree and “lean the opposite way” for the benefit of both. None of our earthly relationships are trouble free. When we expect that we usually end up alone.
Many people expect that their relationship with God will be trouble free, too. You have maybe been guilty of that, just as I have. It’s easy to say that we should turn our troubles over to God, when we really mean that we intend to give them to God so he can fix them and fix them now. And then we get disgusted with God when he leans the other way. And our troubles persist. What we really want from our “friendship” with God is someone who’s bigger than we are to take care of the things we can’t handle. And sometimes we forget that God’s ideas, plans and expectations for our lives may be very different from our own. It can be very unpleasant when God leans the other way.
But, God is more than just our good friend. His love and care for us is way beyond our understanding. He fixes our problems in ways that we never could understand. Sometimes, because he knows what is best for us, He even allows problems to persist in our lives because it helps us to understand that we need him beyond the need to be free from pain or trouble. Because he is more than only our friend He doesn’t always allow us take the easy road.
It’s a picture of God that we see in Ruth’s friendship with Naomi. There was no guarantee that she would be better off with her mother-in-law. In fact, quite the opposite was true. When she said where you die I too will die be buried, she may have well expected it to be soon. Such was the fate of widowed women in those days. Yet, she sacrifices herself not just for the sake of their friendship, she gives her very self for the old woman. It seems she loved Naomi more than she loved herself. Her willing sacrifice turns out to be their salvation. For Ruth it all paid off in the end. She married a wealthy Jewish man, had children and lived a full new life. But, it was no accident. Ruth became the great-grandmother of King David, and an important link in the line of the promised Savior. She was a part of God’s plan to build a friendship to you.
God’s love for you is no accident either. In fact, God guarantees your future through the Savior who was Ruth’s distant great-great-great-great… grandson. God builds a relationship, a friendship with you through His own self sacrifice. We hear Jesus echoed in Ruth’s words… “For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people… Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried.” That’s what Jesus did. God, himself in human flesh, lived where people live, walked were people walked, ate and slept where people ate slept. And most importantly died as people die, and was buried. That’s God extraordinary love for you and me that he lived as any man would have lived, except he lived as a perfect friend, always loving completely, always giving completely. That giving completely is most clearly seen on the cross where he dies, like any human being would die, except not like any human being. It’s there that Jesus shows that His friendship is so much greater than any friendship we could ever hope to have. Jesus death on the cross is not just Jesus giving himself for one friend, or a certain group of people. It’s not just Jesus taking care of you and me. It is Jesus bleeding and dying for the sins of all the people of the whole world. It is a complete and total giving of himself for everyone. We don’t have friends like that, we aren’t friends like that. But Jesus is. He is because His love compels him to be.
Ruth said to Naomi. “May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” It was a promise she made probably slashing a finger across her throat, as if to say, “I’ll die before I desert you.” Jesus promises you and I even more than that, with his friendship. And he seals his promise in his own blood. One way to look at it is this. Ruth could have died for Naomi. If she did it would have been a wonderful self sacrifice. But Ruth still would have been dead the next time Naomi needed help. Jesus isn’t dead. That’s the most powerful thing about what he has done for us. He died, but didn’t stay dead. He suffered death for you and me, but he got up and walked out of the tomb. That’s exactly why Paul could right these words for us; For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Ro 8:38-39, ESV)
Jesus is our best friend because he dies on the cross for us. But He’s our greatest friend because he rose from the dead, and lives with us right now, in every day of our lives. He does something no human begin could ever do.
It still doesn’t mean that in whatever you choose to do he won’t lean the other way. He doesn’t promise that your life is going to be easy and free from trouble. But what he does promise is that He is your Ruth, your friend, your companion, your comfort. He is right there right in the middle of your pain and suffering. And he also promises one more thing that Ruth couldn’t promise Naomi. He promises that through it all you he will be your friend, it won’t last forever, and it really will be alright in the end. And the proof of that promise is seen in the empty tomb… Jesus empty tomb… and yours. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.