I'm With You

November 4, 2018

Series: November 2018

Category: Communion Sunday

Speaker: Bethany Nelson

Ruth 1:1-5

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and 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 one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.

Before I continue with the reading, I want to take a moment to unpack what has already happened in just these 5 verses.  It is a story filled with great tragedy, beginning with a famine.  Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons are forced to move from their home in Bethlehem to an entirely different country.  I’m guessing they don’t want to move, to leave all that is familiar to them, but they likely will die if they do not find somewhere else to live.  They end up in Moab, which is not a country friendly to the Judean people.  In fact, when Moab is mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, it is usually associated either with shame or with hostility.  Moab would definitely not be a place someone from Bethlehem would want to live.  But, Elimelech and his family are desperate, so it is to Moab they go.

Unfortunately, after arriving in Moab, Elimelech dies.  But, even in the midst of grief there is some good news.  Naomi and her sons seem to settle well in Moab, and each of her sons even marries a Moabite woman.  Life is taking a turn for the better.  But then, 10 years later, both of Naomi’s sons die.

My heart aches for Naomi.  She had to move away from her home, then her husband dies, and now her sons have died.  I can’t even begin to imagine her grief.  One commentator on this passage simply says, “We are left with a devastated family.” 

Though we certainly don’t know Naomi’s specific grief, we have all experienced the death of a loved one, and we all have known grief.  Today is All Saints Sunday, which is an opportunity for us to remember those saints who have come before us, and to celebrate the wisdom and love they brought to our lives.  And it is also a time to grieve, to acknowledge the fact that when someone important to us dies, it leaves a hole in our lives that will never be filled.

This past week, I have especially been thinking about the Westminster members and friends who have died this past year.  Knowing each one of them made a difference in my life, and I miss them.  I want to read their names this morning, so we can remember, celebrate their lives, and grieve their deaths together.

Olive Cook, Cena Bessolo, David Pittle, Louis Smith, Maria Styk, Jennie Hoffman, Carl Atkinson, Jim Hampton.  We remember and give thanks for the lives of these saints.

Author Joan Chittister says, “Saints give us a glimpse of the face of God in the center of the human. Saints give us a taste of the possibilities of greatness in ourselves.”  It seems to me that one of the best ways we have to honor the saints who have come before is by continuing to share the love and light of God that they shared with us … to share the face of God that is in our center.  As this story from the book of Ruth continues, we see examples of what this might look like.  Naomi and her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth, each in their own way offer loving care to one another in the midst of their grief.  Rather than reading the scripture verses verbatim, I’m going to share the story from the perspective of Naomi.

“So there we were. Three widows alone. But then there came good news from my homeland. The Lord had visited my land with bounty, there was rain again, the famine had ended. I knew I needed to go back home. When I told Orpah and Ruth, they said they would go back with me.

We packed and started on the road. But it seemed wrong to be taking these girls from their home. I said to Orpah and Ruth, ‘This isn’t right. I can’t promise that there will be anything for you in my homeland.  You should go to your own homes. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.’ But they still insisted they wanted to be with me.  I had to be blunt. ‘I am too old to bear children again to be your husbands. Even if there was some sort of miracle, and I married tonight and bore sons, you certainly would not wait for my boys to be grown in order to marry them!’

When I put it that way, they didn’t seem to know whether to laugh or cry. But then Orpah did cry and said I was right. She said she would miss me, but she would go home to her family. I said I would miss her too, and she left.

But Ruth wouldn’t leave. I told her to go, but she wouldn’t. She then spoke words that I will always cherish. She said, ‘Don’t ask me to leave again. I will never leave you. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I’ll stay. Your people will be my people. Your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and I will be buried where you are buried. May God punish me if I ever let anything separate us.’  I looked Ruth in the eyes and knew she meant every word she said.”[i]

Naomi and Ruth, women from two entirely different backgrounds, different countries, different families, different traditions, coming together in love to support each other in their time of grief.  As Ruth offers these beautiful promises to Naomi, we see the face of God in her center. 

We, like Ruth and Naomi, have a choice to make in difficult times – whether it be times of grief, or anger, or anxiety, or fear – do we allow the difficult times to separate us, or do we find a way to come together in love?  Do we find a way to show each other the face of God at our center?  How might we learn from Ruth’s example, and find a way to say to each other – I’m with you?

I shared some of this story from Naomi’s perspective.  Because it’s such a good story, I’d like to share it again, this time from Ruth and Naomi.

“I’m With You” by Nichole Nordeman and Bernie Herms

Love is a hurricane in a blue sky
I didn’t see it coming, never knew why
All the laughter and the dreams
All the memories in between
Washed away in a steady stream

Love is a hunger; a famine in your soul
I thought I planted beauty, but it would never grow
Now I’m on my hands and knees
Trying to gather up my dreams
Trying to hold on to anything

We could shake a fist in times like this
When we don’t understand
Or we could just hold hands

You and me, me and you
Where you go, I’ll go too
I’m with you. I’m with you
Until your heart, finds a home
I won’t let you feel alone
I’m with you. I’m with you

You do your best to build a higher wall
To keep love safe from any wrecking ball
When the dust has cleared, we will
See the house that Love rebuilds
Guarding beauty that lives here still

You and me, me and you
Where you go, I’ll go too
I’m with you. I’m with you
Until your heart, finds a home
I won’t let you feel alone
I’m with you. I’m with you

As we grieve the saints who have come before, let us say to each other, “I’m with you.” As we strive to live in a way that honors the saints, let us say to each other, “I’m with you.”  As we live together through difficult times of fear and anxiety, let us say to each other, “I’m with you.”

According to author and theologian Matthew Fox, the term “saint” can apply to every single one of us. Fox says, “All who are attempting to imitate the Christ in their lives merit the title of 'saint.' Some do it more fully than others and are willing to let go of more to get the job done.”

When we say “I’m with you” to someone else, it means nothing unless we back it up with action.  Ruth moved from her homeland – away from her family and all that was familiar – to be with Naomi.  Not only did she move away from the familiar, but she moved to a country that was openly hostile to her and her Moabite people.  But she did it. And through the love and care that she showed to Naomi, they both encountered the grace of God.  May we do the same.  Amen.

 [i] http://deanaanderson.blogspot.com/2012/10/ruth-monologues.html