“Making a Commitment”
Our second lesson comes from the book of Ruth. Ruth is the only book in the Old Testament named for someone who was not Jewish. A Moabite woman whose faith and commitment to her family, others and to God is inspiring. Who shows the Godliness in our making commitments. Reading now from God’s holy word.
Let us pray. Loving God, open to us the meaning of your word and help us find our Godly commitments in you and each other, Amen.
The writer of the book of Ruth tells us that when a famine broke out in Judah, a man named Elimelech took his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, and they moved to the neighboring country of Moab, east of the Jordan river, in search of food and hope. Shortly after, Elimelech died. Eventually Naomi’s sons married two Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Then a decade later, both her sons died and Naomi, Ruth and Orpah were left together in Moab. So Naomi decided to return home to Judah, specifically Bethlehem.
Ruth and Orpah wanted to go with her. However, as they begin their trip, Naomi told them that it would be better if they returned to Moab because there is nothing for them in Judah. They were Moabite women and Judah wouldn’t be a good fit. Naomi had few resources and no more sons for them.
Orpah agreed and decided to return to Moab. Ruth, however, decided to continue with Naomi in moving to Judah.
Yet Naomi continued to plead that Ruth return to Moab. But Ruth insisted on following Naomi to Judah saying, “Where you go, I will go. Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. Your God shall be my God.” These are the most famous words from the book of Ruth. They often come up when one googles scripture passages about commitment for weddings. So much so that it’s a discussion among pastors regarding the preparation for weddings that brides often select this passage to be read at their weddings. Until they learn that the words “Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you lodge, I will lodge,” are said by a bride to her mother in law. At that point a different passage usually is requested.
Ruth gives up a lot to leave Moab to follow Naomi. She had to leave behind the rest of her family, childhood friends, culture, and connections to stay with Naomi. Her husband was not alive to go with her. Ruth didn’t know what Judah would be like for her. It probably would have been easier to have stayed in Moab.
Furthermore, it doesn’t appear she was going to Judah because of Naomi’s sparkling personality. Life had not turned out as Naomi had hoped. When they get back to Judah, Naomi tells everyone to stop calling her Naomi, a name which means “delightful,” and instead call her Mara which is translated then as “bitterness.”
Perhaps Ruth was drawn to Naomi’s heartache and wanted to help. Perhaps she saw no future for herself in Moab, having been married to a Jew, and needed a change. Perhaps she saw Naomi as a surrogate mother for her. Or perhaps it was a reaffirmation of her faith in God.
Ruth shows impressive commitment to her mother in law in giving up her life in Moab and going to Judah. In her relationship with Naomi, Ruth is all in.
We all make choices to be involved with activities and relationships at different levels. We dabble in some activities. We try our hand at some choices. As a parent, I read many materials which tell me that in order to raise well rounded children we have to expose them to a wide range of activities. Then I read other articles warning against over scheduling our children.
Eventually we find those activities in life that are most meaningful to us and we specialize. We focus. We commit.
I can recall in my own journey finding some times when I wasn’t sure what was the right career path for me. Being unsure if I should do one job or another. I loved options. Eventually, though, I learned I needed to commit, to focus in order to devote the time needed in one. Eventually we have to be all in.
For Ruth, her commitment was not only to go with Naomi, but to commit to her God as well. The decision to follow the God of Israel was one Ruth first would have made when she married Naomi’s Hebrew son.
But it also might be that Ruth’s exposure to the God of the Israel was a good fit for her. Ruth says, “your God shall be my God.” She was making a commitment to the God of Israel. So was Naomi. Her returning to Judah was a recommitment to her God, despite her disappointment with how things had gone the past decade.
One lesson from Ruth it’s that our sovereign God also cares about the specifics of our lives. God is credited or blamed for most everything which happens in this scripture.
We too have traveled a journey. There are times when we have felt like foreigners. Yet the commitments we make to go deep with God and each other came make all the difference.
The thing about faith is that we don’t get to choose our circumstances. We don’t choose when the cancer comes or the rejection letter arrives or how long the harsh words sting. We do get to respond to the heartache in our own way. And to prepare for the famines in our lives by developing a series of committed relationships with other people, with God and with the church, which can help us in the famines of life.
So at some level, our opportunity as faithful people is to say to God, “where you go, I will go. Your people will be my people. Jesus, your God will be our God.”
We may not have gotten what we expected either, but God offers to lead us if we all in too. If we make God a priority. If we make a commitment to our faith.
Pastor John Ortberg writes that, “Feeling ready in life is highly overrated. God is looking for our commitment. When God brought the people of Israel into the Promised Land, God had them step into the Jordan first, then he parted the river. If they had waited for proof, they’d be standing on the banks still.
Faith grows when God says to somebody, “Go,” and that person says yes.
Maybe the greatest open door in the Bible comes at the end of the Gospel of Matthew. Jesus sends his disciples out to change the world, but there are two striking problems. One is that there are only eleven disciples. All through the gospel the number twelve reminds readers that the disciples have been chosen to be a picture of the redeemed, restarted twelve tribes of Israel. Twelve is the number of wholeness, completeness, readiness. Now they don’t have enough players.
But it’s not just that they have the wrong number. Our first lesson tells us, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” They had a quantity problem and also quality problem. They don’t have enough disciples, and the ones they do have don’t believe enough.
This is the group Jesus chooses to change the world. He doesn’t say, “First, let’s get enough numbers” or “First, let’s get enough faith.” He just says, “You go. We’ll work on the faith thing and the numbers thing while you’re doing the obedience thing. I’m sending you out. Ready or not . . .”
In the Bible, when God calls someone to do something, no one responds by saying, “I’m ready.” ….
And God says to us what he has always said, what Jesus said to his disciples: “Ready or not . . .”
The truth is you don’t know what you can do until you actually do it. “Ready” comes faster if you’re already moving. If you wait to move until you’re fully ready, you’ll wait until you die. Jesus doesn’t say, “Go; you’re ready.” He says, “Go; I’ll go with you.””
Then Ortberg concludes, “Jesus takes his friends up a mountain. Not enough of them. Not enough faith. Doesn’t matter. What matters isn’t whether they’re ready. What matters is that he’s ready. And you and I never know when he’s ready. He’s in charge of that.”[i]
C.S. Lewis is considered one of the great Christian literary writers of the 20th century. Professor at Oxford and Cambridge, and author of Mere Christianity, Screwtape Letters, the Lion Witch and Wardrobe, and whole Narnia series, Lewis helped translate faith in an accessible and persuasive way. During his army training in World War I, Lewis and his roommate, Edward Moore, made a pact that if either died during the war, the survivor would take care of both their families. Moore was killed in battle in 1918 and Lewis kept his promise, taking in and caring for Moore’s mother Jane until she was hospitalized with dementia in the late 1940s, routinely introducing her as his mother, his own having died when Lewis was a child and Lewis having little contact with his own father. With Ruth-like devotion, Lewis’ visited his friend’s mother nearly every day in the hospital until she died in 1951. In 1956, Lewis, from Ireland, married a Jewish woman, Joy Davidman, first in 1956 but then when Davidman was diagnosed with bone cancer, they had a religious ceremony at her bedside in Churchill Hospital the next year. He remained devoted to Davidman until her death in 1960. That very year, C.S. Lewis published The Four Loves, a book influenced by the commitments made, and the pain of his he had felt out of his commitments.
In it Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one…. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements. Lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket, safe, dark, motionless, airless, it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. To love is to be vulnerable.”
Our second scripture begins with the words, “There was a famine in the land of Judah.” Naomi had left Judah because of a physical famine. She was returning to Judah with a spiritual one. Ruth chapter 1 ends with Naomi and Ruth returning to Judah at the beginning of the barley harvest. Naomi had left physically empty and returned to a time of physical bounty. But Naomi doesn’t see it that way. She says in verse 21, “I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.” What a turnaround. Naomi had left physically empty but emotionally full. She returned to physical plenty but to an emotional famine.
That is where we all are at some point. If we have committed relationships with God and each other, we can withstand a lot of famines in our lives. Without relationships, it doesn’t matter how many nice things we have.
All ends mostly well though, as we find by Ruth 4, the end of the book, Ruth is married with a child. Naomi is honored as grandmother and nurse. God’s plan has worked out. The faithfulness of Ruth and Naomi to each other and to staying in relationship with God, through anger, bitterness and joy, makes it all the sweeter a reward.
Commitments in life can be nuanced, challenging and complicated. There are some relationships we have through blood. Yet the inspiration of Ruth, Lewis, Ortberg and Naomi calls us to choose to make deep commitments to God and each other.
It starts as a child with the commitments we have to and from our families and friends. As Millie is baptized this morning, we recognize the value of the many relationships that nurture a life long journey of faith.
As we mature the commitments we make to God are important. God is committed to you and to me and our willingness to trust God along the paths of life can make the difference in our being able to continue the journey.
Our commitments to God and neighbor come together in the church. The institution where we are befriended, supported, equipped, nurtured and encircled with a commitment to love as God loves us. Our church, Bradley Hills, is worth committing to and supporting because it connects our relationships with God and other people.
When we stay on the edges of life, the fringes of relationships, the outside of devotion to God and to others, we miss something. When we say to God, “wherever you God, I will go,” and are in committed relationships with others, we tap into something deep, holy and sacred.
God is all in, what about you? Let us pray. Holy God, you have committed to us. Guide us to make our commitments to others and to you, Amen.