Challenge, Choice, Commitment – Report of Joyce’s sermon on Ruth 1

Ruth2

Joyce Mitchell was preaching this morning, on Ruth 1:1-22, the story of three women at a turning point in their lives.  Here’s the background to the story from the beginning of the chapter:

1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

And here’s a report of Joyce’s comments:

At a time of famine in Judah, a man named Elkanah went with his wife and two sons to live in another country, Moab where there was food to be had. Elkanah died, and the two sons married women from Moab – Orpah and Ruth.  After a few years, however, both the sons died. Three widows were left bearing the burden of bereavement, in a culture where it would have been very hard for single women to make a living.

By this time, there is again plentiful food in Judah as a result of the Lord’s blessing. Naomi decides to return there, where she still will have family and former friends. Orpah and Ruth both set out with her.

Challenge

The three women faced great uncertainty: at least Naomi was returning to her homeland, but Orpah and Ruth were setting out to a place where they would be ‘strangers in a strange land.’

Their situation, Joyce said, reminds us of challenges we have faced in our own lives. And more particularly, it reminds us of people in different parts of the world today who have been displaced as a result of conflict, persecution, or extreme weather events. Will they find the welcome, provision, and shelter they need – and what can we do to help?

Choice

But then Naomi gives Orpah and Ruth the choice of either going forward with her, or returning to their own families. There is no chance, she reminds them, of her producing further sons for them to marry in due course and produce children. (This reflects the importance in the contemporary culture of ensuring the continuation of the family name – it was a way, Joyce said, of achieving a form of eternal life through your descendants.)

Orpah chooses to return to her homeland and her family, where she believes she will be better off. Ruth, on the other hand, makes the more difficult choice, to continue with Ruth to the land where she will be a stranger.

But Ruth has drawn very close to her mother in law. He name, ‘Ruth’ means ‘kindness’ (the opposite of ‘ruthless’) Although of different nationalities, Ruth and Naomi have shared too many experiences, empathised too deeply, formed bonds too strong to break.

Their friendship challenges us to build strong relationships with those who are in some way ‘different’ to us in ethnic origin or beliefs, and find ourselves united with them.

Commitment

And so Ruth makes a commitment. She will not turn back. ‘Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.’ (Ruth 1:16b-17)   Ruth will be Naomi’s faithful companion on the road, and in the future, despite uncertainties about the reception Ruth will be given in Judah.

Ruth’s commitment leads her to embark on a journey of faith from which there was no turning back.

Our lives

Joyce asked us to reflect on the challenges we have faced – or perhaps are facing today. How has God helped us through them? There have been times in her life, she confessed, when she was faced with a choice and didn’t know which path to take. But in retrospect, she realises that God was guiding her, leading her forward – even in situations which took place before she had a living personal faith.

And what choices have we made in the past, or have to make today?  What wrong choices have we made, and what were the consequences of these choices – and what did we learn from our mistakes?  Which choices have led us to a greater commitment to God?  And have the difficulties we have faced taught us how to empathise with others in the same situation?

And what commitments have we made, or are we called to make today? Some of us may have committed to be evangelists, encouraging people to put their faith in the Lord who is always faithful to us.  Many of us may have committed ourselves to following Jesus, and sharing the love of Jesus in practical ways.

‘Where you go I will go’

Can we take Ruth’s words on our lips as a personal response to God?  Two phrases came to Joyce’s mind as she was reflecting on this.  One was this: ‘I want to walk with Jesus Christ.’  Is this our desire, our commitment?  And the second was this ‘Strength will rise as I wait upon the Lord.’  A promise this, that as we ‘wait’ for the Lord, so we are given the strength we require.

Two projects

Joyce mentioned two of the many ideas and initiatives we might want to commit to. Journeying together, a partnership between the Church of Scotland Guild and the World Mission council, will help teenage mothers in Zambia living in poverty. And the ‘Sleep in the Park challenge is an initiative by the Church of Scotland Moderator to raise awareness of the conditions faced by homeless people, and to raise funds to help them.

What choices will we make?

What choices will we make, asked Joyce.  What commitments will we embrace? Challenge, Choice and Commitment can lead to transformation as we see things from new perspectives, find our attitudes changing, and set out in a new direction as a result.

But we need the same determination which Ruth had…………….

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