Sermonizing This Afternoon at the Square Perk Cafe

I am most often a lectionary preacher--it keeps me connected to the entire Bible--especially the Old Testament and the books of the Bible that most preachers never use as their text for a sermon.  Last week and this week passages from the book of Ruth are featured as the Old Testament text.  I have taken liberty to do some switching around of the lectionary text.  I used the lectionary selection from the  gospel of John from All Saints Day, November 1, to preach from last Sunday so this Sunday I am using the lectionary scripture from November 4, Ruth 1:1-18.

Ruth gives us a story of two assertive, strong and capable women.  Ruth gives us a story of God powerfully working in these women's lives as they demonstrate their faith in God who never abandons us and is always at work to redeem us and to redeem the world.  

Naomi's and Ruth's relationship and story also makes a statement that the rules of our culture or society can be overcome.  Our well being and our worth is not about being owned by someone or something.  Our well being and our worth is about relationship--our relationship with God--our faith and trust in God to be with us and see us through when we cannot see a way through--our relationship with each other--woman to woman in this story that leads to a marriage relationship that is part of Jesus' family tree of assertive, strong and capable matriarchs.

John C. Holbert, Perkins School of Theology, says:

.. She [Ruth] now utters one of the Bible's greatest speeches, a speech made famous at weddings, both spoken and sung. But because it has been so used, it threatens to be trivialized, its magnificence blunted in the shadow of wedding vows and cakes and white dresses. We must remember the exact context of this speech if we are to recover its wonder. Ruth has been dismissed by Naomi; she plainly is not in any of Naomi's future plans. Yet, she says this:

"Do not force me to abandon you, or to turn away from following you" (1:16).
For Ruth, there can be no question of leaving Naomi alone, as much as Naomi thinks she wishes to be alone. And Ruth goes on to say that she will go wherever Naomi goes, will live where Naomi lives, will accept Naomi's people as her own, will receive Naomi's God as her God, will die where Naomi dies, will be buried where Naomi is buried, and concludes these words with an oath calling on YHWH to strike her if even death were to part Naomi from her (1:16-17). After that speech, Naomi is struck mute (1:18).
And so should we be, too. It is exceedingly rare to find such radical devotion so richly displayed, and even more rare to find it displayed by a foreign widow who is not welcomed by the one to whom the devotion has been directed. In the face of rampant patriarchy and thorough rejection, Ruth still clings to Naomi and vows grandly never to leave. In short, Ruth is very like the YHWH she has chosen to embrace, a YHWH who will never depart from us and will forever offer to us a chesed, an unbreakable love, that will never leave us alone. In this wonderful story, God is a Moabite widow, which, it could be said, is a patriarchal mouthful.

Holbert gets it right.  I always stand amazed and perplexed that these powerful words of declaration of loyalty from a daughter-in-law spoken to her mother-in-law have been relegated to the marriage ceremony always subtly implying (especially today for the the majority of people who know nothing about scripture, much less the story of Naomi and Ruth) that these powerful words are to be spoken between a husband and wife or were originally spoken between a man and a woman.

I will continue to struggle and wrestle with this passage as my sermon comes together to express the path of Naomi "From Bitterness to Blessing."


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