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Friday, November 13, 2009

Church news, 11/13 -- "Ruth, Dedication and Steps of Faith"

November 8th's sermon message focused on the Old Testament story of Ruth, the great-grandmother of King David, still quoted 3,000 years later at weddings -- "whither thou goest, I will go...".

Ruth, a Moabitess (Moab was located where Jordan is today), was the daughter-in-law of Naomi, a Jewish woman who moved to Moab with her husband, Elimelech, to escape a famine in Judah. Naomi's sons came of age in Moab and took wives from among the Moabites, Ruth and Orpah.

Sadly, within about 10 years, Elimelech and both of his sons were dead, leaving three widows. By this time the famine had ended, and so Naomi prepared to return to her family in Judah. Her daughters-in-law began to make the journey with her, but Naomi stopped them and pointed out that it would be better for them to go home to their own mothers and find new husbands among their own people. Both of them argued with her at first, but eventually Orpah was persuaded and started the journey to her own home.

Ruth, however, would not be moved and insisted on traveling to Judah with Naomi. Once they reached Bethlehem, Naomi taught Ruth the tradition of Jewish families -- that widows were allowed to follow behind those gathering a grain harvest and pick up any gleanings left behind. Ruth did this and attracted the attention of Boaz, a kinsman of Naomi's, who made sure she got enough food for both women before eventually purchasing the land holdings of Elimelech and his sons and marrying Ruth.

Why was it, we wonder, that Ruth was willing to follow Naomi, turning her back on her own family, culture, and religion? Naomi means "pleasantness", so we can assume she was a good companion, and she had shared tragedy with Ruth. But would these things be enough to cause Ruth to leave behind her own real mother, her family, and her identity?

What's between the lines of the story is that Naomi was living a holy life. She was a living example to Ruth of what Yahweh was like. We often have confusion over the place of works in our lives of faith. We know works won't save us. We know faith without works is dead. How do these truths not contradict each other?

Naomi shows us that the reason to do works and try to live a holy life isn't to impress God, but rather show God to those around us. Because she showed Yahweh to Ruth, Ruth was persuaded. It doesn't always work -- Orpah saw the same example but still eventually decided to stay in Moab -- but how we deal with tragedy or any of life's problems is a much more powerful witness than anything we might tell people.

Of course, once Naomi and Ruth arrived in Judah, Ruth also saw "how people of God care for each other," as Fr. David pointed out. "The way Ruth was treated by Naomi's people reveals the way we should behave as a parish family." At the end of the story, Ruth bears a son, Obed, and the women of Naomi's neighborhood rejoice with her, telling her Obed is her son too, because Ruth and Boaz would never have met except for her. It's amazing what can happen in a community of believers! Thanks be to God!

NOTES: The Parish Annual Meeting will take place following worship on Sunday, Nov. 22. The agenda and voter list is posted in the chapel. We'll have a dish-to-pass lunch on that day. After worship on Nov. 8 we had a farewell reception for Al Bagdonas, who with his wife, Holly, has moved to South Carolina. We'll miss Al and Holly but wish them all the best in their new life and ministry. Bon-Ton Community Day is tomorrow, Nov. 14. A percentage of the money taken in tomorrow will be donated to All Saints.

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