Sunday, 03 April 2016
My Story in God's Story ~ Ruth and Naomi
We all need the value of friends who love us and agree with us and friends who love us and disagree with us.

4.3.16 MSGS Friendship Sunday ~ Ruth 1

We all need two kinds of people in our lives.  We need both people that love us and see life pretty much like we do, and then we need people that love us and see things very differently than we do.  Notice, both people love us.  That is the key.  It doesn’t matter if you have people around you who agree with you, but they don’t love you.  Those people are called “yes” people.  They just say yes to you because they are supposed to.  They agree with everything you say, because it’s their job.  Ancient kings and rulers used to have people who would sit behind their thrones and whisper in their ears, “You are amazing, you are powerful, you are always right.”  Those are “yes” people and they really do no one any good.  Because people who agree with you, but don’t love you, are not good for your life.

Likewise, you need people who love you and disagree with you, and see things differently than you do.  Notice, again, these people love you.  Please hear this, just because someone disagrees with you DOES NOT MEAN they have stopped loving you.  Now, of course,  there are many people out there who don’t see things the way you do and they don’t love you either.  They would just as soon fight with you, see you out the door, or have nothing to do with you.  But people who love you AND disagree with you are golden, because these friends want what is best for you.  That is what love is.  They want to see you grow, and learn, and become better.  They want to challenge you and you do become a better person by people who love you and yet disagree with you push you to see new things.

We need these two kinds of people in our lives because we all need safe places where we can just be ourselves and it is easy and fun.  Those days of hanging out with friends who love you and see things the way you do, are so relaxing and life giving.  And then we all need places where we are challenged and where we have to think a bit harder, and where we might find ourselves with people and in experiences where we are not comfortable, but we are learning.  Those times of hanging out with friends who love you and don’t agree with you are so valuable to all of us becoming better people.

Today is friendship Sunday.  Many of us here at First Covenant invited friends to be with us this day.  Some friends came, others didn’t.  Some friends are people who agree with each other, others not so much.  Everyone is welcome, and here at First Covenant, everyone is loved, even if you disagree with everything I say.  We are not here, together, because we see eye to eye on everything.  No we are here together, as friends, as Christians, as people journeying through life because we love each other.  Love is what holds us together more than anything else.

And so today, I want to explore with you what friendship really can be.  And I want to encourage you, perhaps challenge you to be the kind of friend that really changes you into a better person, and maybe changes your friend as well.  Today we are going to take a look at a story in scripture that comes from a book called Ruth.  It is a story of a family who went through a really hard time, but more importantly it is a story of a friendship that would not be broken.  Let’s pray.

Breathe on us breath of God, fill us with life anew, that we may love whate’re you love, and do what you would do.  Amen.

The story of Ruth begins with the story of Middle-Eastern refugees who have to flee for a foreign country because their leaders aren’t doing a great job of leading.  Sound familiar?  There is this Hebrew family, the father’s name is Elimelech, the mother’s name is Naomi, and they have two sons, Mahlon and Chilion and they were from Bethlehem.  Not only that we are told that they were kind of a big deal in Bethlehem, sort of the bees knees kind of, upper eschalon people who are now leaving behind everything because there is no food.  And so they are going to the country of Moab, which is definitely a downward kind of move, but they are going there, because it seems they have no choice.

On top of all this uprooting, we are told that the two sons are not exactly strapping young lads, we know this because of their names.  Mahlon means “sickly,” and Chilion means “failing” so we have a hungry family caring for their two sons sickly and failing and they are off to a new land.  Things couldn’t be any worse…except then the father, Elimelech, dies.  And while the two sons marry Moabite women who are willing to have them, they too, about a decade later, not surprisingly, because their names are sickly and failing, they too die.  Leaving Naomi, alone in a foreign land, with two daughters in law and no bright future.  She has completely fallen from her upper class lifestyle in Bethlehem, to absolute abject poverty in Moab.  She has nothing.

Well, not quite, she actually has, in that time, what you might think of as worse than nothing.  It would be better for Naomi’s position in life if she did actually have nothing, but instead she has two daughters in law.  Which means she has two more mouths to feed, two more people who also have nothing and no future ahead of them.  You see, there is no government to step in and feed, house, and clothe these women, their only hope is family, which they have none, their only other hope is to get married again, which is a bleak hope at that.  And so they are desperate.

Most, if not all of us, cannot relate to this kind of desperation.  Because most if not all of us have been through some rough patches, but not this rough.  Most of us have always had food available, and a roof over our heads, and clothes on our backs.  Sure you may not be wealthy, but most of us, dare I say all of us, have never been this destitute.  So this is not the part of the story we really can relate to.  We have a hard time truly imagining what this would be like.  But then something happens that many of us can relate to.

Naomi hears of something better back home.  And she decides to head back, and her two daughters in law go with her, until she stops, and tells them to go away.  To leave her.  She pushes them away from her.  Thinking they would be better off without her around.  Naomi tries to get to a place where she is truly and utterly alone.  And before you wrinkle up your face at Naomi because you see how sad that is, let me tell you, all of us do this.  All of us, in our times of pain and struggle and hurt, all of us, push away the people, the resources, the things that could help us, rather than keeping them close.  So all of us do what Naomi does here.

Here’s what I mean.  I worked in the restaurant business for many years, I know what it means to deal with customers and people who are upset and then they get mean.  But here is what is always so strange to me and to everybody who works in customer service, why, when you the customer are upset about something, like maybe your food wasn’t right, or the is a chip in your glass, or you are not getting waited on quickly enough, why take that out on the person who can actually solve your problem?  Why, yell at the server who is about to clean up, or about to bring you new food, or about to help you out?  Why bite the hand that is about to feed you?  Getting angry with the person who can solve the problem, cursing them, calling them names is not how you go about fixing things quickly.  And yet, over and over and over again, we push against and push away the people who could actually help.

Or maybe that is not you, maybe you are calm and cool in every restaurant situation, but this is you instead, when you are troubled, overwhelmed, and stressed out about life, or work, or family or school, or whatever, instead of working on the problem, you push it away.  Instead of asking for help, you just go into your inward place, curl up, and wish everything would go and fix itself.  You just ignore the problem, hoping someone or something else will take care of it.

I was listening to Car Talk the other day on NPR, the show is about cars and car repair, but it is also really funny.  Now I don’t know anything about cars, really very little.  But I love this show.  And the hosts, know tons about cars and how to fix them, and they used to run their own car repair shop.  Now, one of the callers called in and said that something had been going wrong with her car for six months and she was wondering if she should get it fixed.  And they just started laughing.  Six months?  And then the caller said, “I hoped it would just go away.”  Many of this have this amazing ability to push away and ignore the problems that are right in front of us rather than dealing with them.  The car talk guys asked her if she was the kind of person who didn’t go to the doctor right away when she was hurt, but instead took a couple of days to see if things would work themselves out.  You won’t be surprised, she was someone who just hoped her physical problems would go away.

We push away our help, in one way or another.  You do it, I do it, turn to the person next to you and say to them, “you do it too.”  Car owners do it, restaurant customers do it, and Bible characters do it too.  It seems that we would rather stay in our hurt and pain than do something or ask someone for help.

So Naomi tries to push away her daughters in law telling them they would be better off without her.  They both resist her at first, a sort of argument ensues, and finally Orpah agrees with Naomi and heads off, Ruth, however, disagrees and stays put.

Oh how good it is to have friends who love you and agree with you and do what you tell them to do, and Oh how good it is to have friends who love you and disagree with you and won’t do what you tell them to do.  Don’t any of us look down on Orpah here.  She is doing what Naomi asked, and probably what is in her best interest.  It is a good decision to head back to Moab for Orpah.  So we have no judgment for her, but we do have admiration for Ruth.  For Ruth does something astounding here.  She not only stays with Naomi, but she speaks vows of friendship and love that are so beautiful that she, Ruth, who is not an Israelite, not part of the chosen people of God, not an insider, not a descendant of Abraham, Isaac, or Jacob, it is Ruth, because of her love and friendship, that gets a whole book of the Bible named after her, and she becomes part of the lineage that will eventually lead to Jesus.  Ruth is Jesus’ great, great, great, great, great, a lot more greats grandmother.

By the way, did you know that Ruth, means “friend” in Hebrew.  This whole book of the Bible is really about friendship, what it looks like, how it changes you, how you can be a friend in both the good times and the bad.  How you stick by each other through thick and thin.  That is what Ruth’s name means, and it is what this book of the Bible is all about.

So if you want to know what it means to be a friend, and what it means to have a friend, you don’t have to look any further than Ruth, this outsider, this nobody, this lonely and utterly impoverished woman who decides in her worst moment, to be the best kind of friend.  And she says this, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”

Do you have this kind of friendship?  One that is unbreakable even by death?  Are you the kind of friend that Jesus’ great….grandmother was?  Willing to stay in, even when you and your friend are at your worst?  Not willing to give up, turn away, go off and find your own way even if that way would be better for you and your friend told you to go!?  This IS the very friendship we can have at our best, it is the kind of friendship that Jesus talked about when he said, “There is no greater love than this, that you would lay down your life for a friend.”  Trust me, Jesus knew about his great grandmother’s story.  It is the very friendship that God offers all of us that even when we don’t have any friends, even when we are not being good friends, even when it seems like everything has fallen apart and everyone has abandoned us we still have God who says, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”  We still have Jesus who said, “I no longer call you servants, I call you friends.”  We still have each other, the people sitting right here in this room right now, who are not perfect, who won’t agree with you about everything, but will still love you as best they can.

It is good to have friends and to be a friend.  It is a good gift from our God.

Remember that God loves you and I love you too.  Amen.