Over the next 6 weeks we will be taking time to explore the 4 chapters of the book of Ruth. This week we begin by reading and looking at Ruth 1.
The Sermon title is Family Bonds
Early Thoughts: What do you do when life falls apart? On whom can you rely?
For most of human history the first place you would look would be family. Family is the group that provides support (in theory at least, there have always been stories where family has been distinctly less than supportive). For most of human history family (extended to clan and tribe, not just our modern nuclear family) has been the social safety net.
Naomi has had her life torn apart. She and her family flee their home as economic refugees (ironically Bethlehem, the House of Bread, is hit by famine). The settle in a new land. Then her husband and both sons die, leaving 3 widows. What is one to do?
Naomi (who we will learn is as much of the heroine of this story as Ruth is) goes home. Assuredly there are still family there who will take her in, because that is what family does. But what about these daughters-in-law? What family are they a part of now? If they remain with Naomi Jewish law suggests that they need to marry within the family of Elimelech, preferably to an as-yet-unborn brother of their husband, to maintain the name and line of Elimelech. Naomi knows this is a dubious proposition.
So she releases them. Go home, find new husbands, live prosperous and happy lives. By all accounts this is the path of wisdom, however much it may break Naomi's heart to do so. One woman agrees. The other has changed her family loyalty already. And so Ruth refuses to go. This is a different type of wisdom, some might even call it foolishness.
In the ancient (and not so ancient if we are honest) world, to be a widow with no sons [and little or no financial resources -- money has always made a difference] put one in a highly precarious position. Unless you can find a source of support you will either starve or be forced to less than honorable ways of making a living. Ruth is taking a great risk. But her love of and commitment to her mother-in-law appears to leave her no choice.
In the next weeks we will learn how Ruth and Naomi will fare. But this week we only get this far. Ruth's statement of commitment (arguably the best known verse in the entire book) and love that contradicts and stares down Naomi's sacrificial loving offer. Life has fallen apart for this family unit. Where do they look for support?
And where is God in all this? [Because the text does not actually say anything about God]