This sermon is the third in a series on vocation. We see, in the story of Ruth, how God calls us to befriend those who are in a hopeless situation.
Narrative Lectionary Text: Ruth 1:1-17
Fun fact. The name Ruth means friend.
To be ruthless means to be…without a friend, or to be without friendliness or compassion.
Sometimes I feel like the world is ruthless. What do you think?
Another fun fact. I’m doing something very different for me. I am not going to use any slides or visuals for this sermon. It’s not because I was lazy this week, or because I ran out of time. I just felt compelled to tell stories today and let words paint pictures.
When I was a sophomore in high school we moved to Minnesota…
That was a ruthless moment.
Last year I had the privilege of leading a research team. The team members did projects over a nine month period and I read their journals. One team member spent time visiting people in their homes in a suburban community. She said she heard a repeated story of elderly people…
The suburbs are a ruthless place for them.
We turn on the TV news and see images of hundreds of thousands of people streaming out of their countries because their homes and neighborhoods have been literally destroyed by war. They go to another country to find refuge, shelter, food, and water, only to be denied entrance.
The world is a ruthless place for them.
We come today to our third sermon in this series on Vocation. Let’s connect things together.
Previously, on the Narrative Lectionary…
Two weeks ago we saw that God called Moses and his family to deliver the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt. We learn that every one of us has a calling from God, a vocation to live out.
Last week we saw that Moses led the people out of slavery and God gave them the Law. The Ten Commandments, or the Ten Words of Law and Promise show us the Key of our Calling. God invites us to play in the key of G instead of the Key of Me. The Key of G is God’s love for your neighbor.
I would like you to take out your Bible.
If you didn’t bring your own Bible, then grab the Bible in the pew and open it up to the table of contents. Last week we were in the book of Deuteronomy where Moses stood on the east bank of the Jordan River and spoke the words of Law and Promise to the people.
This week our story is the book of Ruth.
Do you see how we’ve skipped over two whole books?
The book of Joshua tells the story of how a man named Joshua took over when Moses died and became the leader of the Israelites. He led the people into the land that was promised to Abraham. The went to battle with the Canaanites and took over the land.
Then, the book of Judges tells the story of how the people lived in the land after Joshua died. This covers a three hundred year span of time. There was no king in the land.
You can sum up the whole story with this one verse. Look at Judges 17:6
“In those days there was no king in Israel; all the people did what was right in their own eyes.”
The people of Israel were living in the Key of Me and they spiraled out of control.
Then, in the midst of all that chaos, there is this wonderful story of Ruth.
This is the story of one family.
There was a man named Elimilech. His wife was named Naomi, and they had two sons. They lived in the town of Bethlehem, which means house of bread. That is an ironic name for this story because a terrible famine came on the land. Elimilech and his family was forced to leave their home and become a refugee in a nearby country called Moab.
They settle there and the two boys grew up and took Moabite wives.
Things were good for a while.
Then Elimilech died, leaving Naomi a widow.
We have to stop at this point and connect with the culture of that day. It was radically different from ours. Men controlled everything, and women had no security in society apart from their husbands and their children.
When Elimilech died Naomi was a widow, but she was OK. She had two married sons to take care of her.
When her sons died she was not OK. Now she was poor, in foreign country, and without hope. She said, “Don’t call me Naomi anymore. Call me Mara, because I am bitter.”
She told her daughters-in-law to go home. They were still young enough to marry into another family and be safe.
Orpah went back, but Ruth did not.
Look at what Ruth said in Ruth 1:16-17,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
Do you realize what Ruth did in this moment? She committed social suicide. She was not willing to abandon Naomi to a life of destitution.
She was not Ruthless, and neither was Naomi.
So, I have a message for two kinds of people today.
you may be here today and you feel like Naomi. All seems lost. You are Mara, you are bitter. Life seems Ruthless.
Hear this. God loves you. God has set you free from sin and death through Jesus Christ, and God is working with you and for you in this world.
That is the good news. You are not ruthless.
You may be here today and you feel connected. You know God loves you. You have family. You have friends. You know that when something bad happens to you, someone has your back.
Here is the message for you. The first person I spoke to will not know that God loves them until someone like you demonstrates it to them.
Don’t be ruthless.
Here’s the point. Our vocation is not a call to something spectacular. Each one of us is called be the love of God to someone who has not experienced God’s love in a real way.
Who is your Naomi?
I want to end today with a super practical exercise. Pastor Mark has mentioned the three-minute rule a few times. This is a discipline where we all, right after the service lets out, take the first three minutes to NOT go talk to the people we normally hang out with. Take three minutes to find someone you don’t know and introduce yourself.
Let’s not let anyone be ruthless today.