Text: Ruth 1:1-18
Shalom Hills Farm in Southwest Minnesota is a camp and retreat center that teaches folks about rural/small-town and farming life. But more than that, they also teach what ministry looks like in such settings. Shalom Hills Farm hosts church youth groups, adult groups, clergy, and seminarians and for over 20 years, they’ve been showing people how God moves and works among farms and small-towns and the people who live and work there in a time when people are becoming distanced from that way of life. This past week, a good friend of mine posted on Facebook that Shalom Hills Farm had a major fire on their property, and lost one of their biggest barns. Thankfully, there was no loss of life, but it’ll probably cost quite a bit to replace it. And having seen a number of barn fires in my farming community growing up, the concern is where that money will come from, or if they have it at all. That’s life in small farming towns. Folks are trying to be optimistic, but they may have to face the facts.
In the book of Ruth this morning, these three women are facing the facts as well. For Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth, all of their husbands are dead, which is not good news in their time. Men were the ones who owned land and property, and so women were dependent on them for their livelihood. So for these three women, the tragedy that’s struck them means their lives are at risk: if they can’t find a husband, then a life of poverty and exploitation is a definite reality. For Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth….they have to face the facts…and make some hard decisions in the process.
How do you react when it’s time to “face the facts” in your lives? When tragedy strikes, when hard things come your way, how do you react? Naomi states she’s just simply “too old” – too old to remarry, too old to bear either one of her daughters-in-law a new husband. So she sends them on their way…..probably rationalizing that it’s better for one to suffer rather than three…there’s hope for them yet. She’s just too old. And Orpah, despite not wanting to leave her mother-in-law, she realizes the logical choice is to go – she’s a Moabite, and returning to Moab where she likely has family to care for her makes sense. So she goes. And maybe we do the same thing too – in the face of tragedy and hard times, we face the facts and we do what’s logical. We make the rational decision, minimizing damages and doing what’s best. But here’s the thing: logic very rarely offers any hope. Listen to Naomi and Orpah’s words, you hear a whole lot of logic….but not a lot of hope.
And here we have Ruth, clinging to her mother-in-law and saying, “Where you go, I will go, your people will be my people, where you lodge I will lodge, your God will be my God and I will die where you die.” It just sounds like this beautiful expression of love and commitment between two people. Because of that, this passage gets used a lot at weddings….in fact, I presided over a wedding last night, and the couple chose this very passage. Beautiful words, beautiful couple….and I think also an expression of God’s love for us – like Ruth, God embraces us, never lets us go, and goes where we go. God makes God’s home where we live, and God will be with us in death…and beyond. But I think such a notion of Ruth’s act and words today falls short. This past week, I had a friend of mine call me….after 5 years of marriage, his wife simply told him she didn’t love him anymore. She’s not happy, and she needs a month to sort things out – with zero contact. My friend’s afraid….he wonders that after 30 days she’ll just logically come to the conclusion that it no longer work for her to be married to him and when the time’s up that will be that: marriage over. I think for my friend, the romantic, beautiful wedding version of Ruth’s love falls way short.
So then, what to make of Ruth’s act and words? I don’t think a romantic, beautiful notion of love is what the story of Ruth is getting at. This vision of commitment to another human being, and this vision of God’s love, is one proclaimed in the face of tragedy. It is irrational for Ruth to stay – her commitment puts her at risk right alongside Naomi, it defies all logic. Yet Ruth stays….and in that decision, Naomi and Ruth have each other….and in that, perhaps they have hope. And maybe God’s love is just as irrational…..a God that would come down and take on human form, suffer, and die for us simply because God loves us simply defies logic, don’t you think? But just maybe, those irrational words, that irrational act holds a lot of hope in them.
I wonder, for all the logic and rationing that people do to make sense of who Jesus is and what he did for us – died to wipe sin off the face of the earth, died to pay off our debt of sin, to make us righteous before God – maybe the good news of God’s love is simply this: one, we are not alone and two, our lives are a gift. In the face of tragedy, when so much uncertainty of how the future might turn out and how we’ll ever logically get things done….perhaps the most irrational thing we hear is the most powerful….and it is the most hopeful: We are not alone and our lives are a gift.
Back to my friend and Shalom Hill Farm, in the face of their tragedy and the uncertainty of rebuilding, people are shedding logic for now and simply praying. They’re praying and like us this morning they’re worshipping God together. Ruth’s embrace and words to her mother-in-law are irrational. But they proclaim to Naomi that she is not alone and that she is worth sticking with through thick and thin. And I can’t help but think, for both Ruth and Naomi and the community of Shalom Hills Farm, that offers a sense of hope in the days to come.
Maybe the church, in all it’s facing these days, they could use a bit of irrational behavior too. Congregations are facing the facts as they look around, and often turn to logic – new ministries, evangelism strategies, stewardship campaigns….they hire a pastor who’s gonna attract all these people to grow the church. But in the end, it’s the ways a Christian community believe and live out this irrational love of God – bearing life with one another in such a way that changes us beyond all logic and anything we could do on our own. Dear friends…..God often doesn’t make sense sometimes, even to me…especially to me. But to know we are embraced by God…we are not alone, our lives matter, and to know there are folks out there who believe this, and even commit to living it out with us…..that might be the most hopeful thing we hear all week. And perhaps, that makes all the difference. Amen.