Sermon on July 18, 2021
KaB FKB (Volker Aßmann)
Find home – The story of Ruth
„On the way“
This sermon is translated from German into English. You can find the original video here
In our new series of sermons, we deal with a very impressive little book from the Old Testament, the first part of the Bible. It is a romantic book and at the same time a book full of “strokes of fate” and tension. I love this book.
The title of the book bears the name of a woman, as well as a woman, who was not part of God’s people Israel. Ruth was a Moabite woman. It is about life and death, hope and bitter disappointment, doubt and fulfillment and love and devotion. This book was probably written by Samuel, probably shortly before David was anointed king of Israel.
The background to this actual story is very dark and not very hopeful. It is about 300 years between the capture of the promised land of Canaan under Joshua and the installation of the first Israeli king, Saul. When Israel took the land promised by God, it had repeatedly seen that no one was stronger than their God. God had always stood by them and helped them and given them a great home.
But this interim period was one of the darker times in the history of Israel, the time of the so-called “judges”. The motto or description of that time was something like anarchy: “At that time there was no king in Israel and everyone did what he wanted” (Judges 17: 6 and 21:25)
Against this background, the book Ruth looks like a beautiful pearl against a black background. It deals with the following topics: strangers, home, homesickness, repentance, longing, calm, visitation, hope … We named the series after the book by Ulrich Müller: “Finding a home”.
1. On the way – a tragic journey
The beginning of this tragic journey begins with the political and social conditions in Israel. And in this story, part of the tragedy is told through the names.
It was a time like today for us: everyone, or more and more people, do what they want, what seems right to them. God as the standard for practical life plays less and less of a role.
We, too, have to be prepared for this development to become stronger and stronger. It concerns topics such as ethics and morals, dealing with one another, egoism, sexuality and much more.
When God and His word are no longer the yardstick for our life personally and as a society, we get on the wrong track and lose the solid foundation on which we can live a successful life. And then there’s a catastrophe, a famine. This can happen as a result of bad harvests, drought, perhaps through no human fault. But we are currently experiencing how, in the flood disaster in the west of our country, the question of whether we triggered this through our behavior and the resulting global warming was hotly debated with many dead. In any case, the people affected are not personally to blame for this disaster. We have to be very careful with such a judgment that people are to blame because it is all too often judgmental and presumptuous.
But in the context of the book of Ruth, it is probably related that the catastrophe of the famine was the result of people turning away from God. It was a strange contradiction that there is no more bread in the bread house, that is the meaning of the name of the city of Bethlehem. Here God explains that it is the result of people turning away from God. And it fits that Elimelech, whose name means “My God is King”, moves with his wife and two sons to the neighboring country of Moab in order to survive there. Apparently there was no famine there, less than 100 km away at the other end of the Dead Sea.
Who were the Moabites? After God destroyed the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire in judgment and Lot with his 2 daughters had survived, the two daughters had the very bad idea of getting their father Lot drunk and sleeping with him to get pregnant.
This throws a clear light on the moral conditions at this time, on Lot and his two daughters, to get drunk and then to have sex with their own daughters. And one of the children born as a result is called Moab. As in the time of the judges: they do what they want and what they think is right.
From the beginning, the Moabites and Israelites were marked by enmity. And that’s where the family moves. Perhaps, it maybe there was no other way to survive. And the tragedy continues: Elimelech, Naemi’s husband, whose name means “the lovely one”, dies much too early.
And soon afterwards the two sons do something that God had forbidden the Isarelites because HE didn’t want His people to turn away from HIM and to other gods: They marry Moabite women. The Moabite religion was a very cruel one with human sacrifice and a lot of sexual immorality in the religion. The tragic way goes further and further away from God and His ideas for life. And it happens what is already negative in the names of the sons (“the sickly” and “squalid”), the sons also die after a short time and much too early. What remains is Naemi, who has lost everything: her home, her family, her future and apparently also her God …
In the New Testament, there is a verse that makes it clear in this situation of personal responsibility for one’s own life decisions: “
Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.”(Gal.6,7)
Beware, this phrase doesn’t apply to most diseases or natural disasters, at least not personally. But it applies to our life choices. We have to bear and live out their consequences, even if in God’s grace and love there is sometimes a way out and a new beginning.
Basically: We are responsible for what we decide and do.
But the book of Ruth is also full of hope and courage. So Ruth does not give herself to her “fate” inactive and desperately devoted to her.
2. The crucial step – repent “
So Naemi set out with her two daughters-in-law and returns from the area of Moab; for she had heard that the Lord had visited his people and given them bread “(Ruth 1: 6)
Naemi does not follow a modern trend of our day that she gives up allegiance and trust in God and explains why she no longer believes in God and perhaps also why it was a mistake to trust God in earlier years.
Apparently she still thought of God in the tragedy of her life and perhaps even sought God in desperation.
She speaks of “the visitation of God,” an important topic in the book of Ruth. She connects what she experiences with God, especially her deep suffering:
“… the Almighty has made it bitter for me” (Ruth 1:20). “… the hand of the Lord is stretched out against me …” (Ruth 1:13)
She interprets her suffering as an act of God in her life, maybe she has the tragedy of the wrong life decisions clearly in mind and sees the terrible consequences of her and Elimelech’s wrong decisions.
Now Naemi doesn’t say we were lucky, the famine at home is over. She understands the supply in the home with enough food as the “visitation of God“, the God who has a covenant with His people and provides them again.
Visitation is not all negative, as in what many call a “blow of fate.” In positive terms it means: God has sought His people again and loved them home. God came home to His people. No matter how one understands and experiences ‘visitation’, “in both cases (positive as well as negative) there is God’s desire to come into contact with a person, to get his attention, to play the decisive role in his or her livers.” (U. Müller)
Naemi’s reaction to this news from Bethlehem shows that she has not found a home in Moab, but still regards Bethlehem as home in her heart. And she immediately went home. “Repentance is the quickest step forward.” (C.S. Lewis)
Repentance begins with the decision and the first step in the other and right direction!
This makes the book of Ruth a book full of hope and good news: It is never too late and never too far not to turn back and come back to God.
It is a good sign when we are homesick for home. Homesickness for people who are familiar and important to us. Homesickness for fellowship with the people of the community after lockdown and distance for the past 1½ years. Homesick for God and the love of our Heavenly Father.
3. Walking without a double net and ground – trust in God’s faithfulness and grace.
Naemi has no notarized promise that things will be fine in Bethlehem. Would she even be welcome after the wrong decisions in her life as a family? And she has no idea how she would be cared for as a childless widow, because the family was the security back then, but they were dead.
The whole hopelessness of Naemis becomes clear in the conversations with her two widowed daughters-in-law. From a human perspective there is no hope of any kind for Naemi, Ruth and Orpa. No man, no sons, no insurance – it was so tough back then.
And yet Naemi’s decision is shaped by hope: Where, if not with her God, in the home, could there be hope for help and care ?!
Naemi still has confidence in God’s “hesed“. This is a very important and central motif in the Bible and also here with Naemi: It means devotion and loyalty out of love and kindness towards people for whom you are responsible.
It is Naemi’s attitude towards her daughters-in-law that she wishes them from the bottom of her heart that God will do them good. (Ruth 1.8 / 2.20 / 3.10).
Naemi fails to persuade Rut, the Moabite daughter-in-law, to stay in Moab. Apparently Elimelech and Naemi told their daughters-in-law about their belief in their God and at least Ruth had a relationship with this God or a longing for HIM.
Ruth replied to Naemi: “Wherever you go, I want to go too, and where you stay, I want to stay too; your people are my people and your God is my God! Wherever you die, I will die too, and that is where I will be buried; the LORD do this and that and even more to me, if death alone shall not part us! ”(Ruth 1,16-17)
“So the two went until they got to Bethlehem.” (1:19)
The book of Ruth is a powerful book of hope in the faithfulness and goodness of God. And it is a book of longing that is stronger than death and despair. Even if Elimelech and Naemi took the wrong turn more than 10 years ago and somehow got lost in life, there is longing and hope.
It is the hope of rest and arrival, at home. (Ruth 1,9).
This is a strong theme in the Bible and ultimately in our lives: Finding peace (not in the graveyard) in life.
“So the people of God still have a Sabbath rest; for whoever has entered his rest also rests himself from his works, just as God rests from his own. So let us strive eagerly to enter into that rest … “(Heb. 4: 9-11)
And the story of Naemi and Ruth is the story of the God who likes to give people a second chance. We also live from the fact that God does not keep accusing us of our guilt and wrong decisions, but invites us to turn to HIM and to come back to HIM and to trust in God and in our relationship with God. God’s “hesed”, his faithfulness and goodness, is much stronger and greater than our guilt and despair.
But it is up to us, just like Naemi and Ruth, to change our direction of life and to search for God, new or for the first time.
4. What is home? – To seek God means to find a home
This is a current topic, especially in our time when millions of people are on the run and have left their “home” to find a new home. And we think we can decide who can find a home with us and who cannot.
Yes, there are disappointments, but also with people who were born here. But I don’t want to decide about that.
How nice it is when people find a home with us in our country, in our community and as friends with us. A job and much more.
How nice it is when people set off to a new home through poverty or war or whatever and when they find Jesus and are saved. Then everything was worth it and we can only say “Hallelujah”.
What is home then?
The place where we were born? I have said repeatedly in my life that I do not know and have no “home” at all. It is definitely not where I grew up. For me, home is the place where I am now at home with my wife and family.
And every time someone around me dies, I ask myself the question, where am I at home? And what do I live on? Uwe Müller writes:
“Home describes the future, not the origin. Home is not looking backwards but forwards. There’s no home in the back. Home is only at the front. ”
The story of Ruth shows us: People are and will remain homeless until they find a home with God.
In her deep suffering Naemi speaks of God in a very special way: “El Shadday = the almighty God who cares for me”.
That is deep trust in God: HE has the power to intervene in my life. And because “hesed”, loyalty and goodness, is His essence, He will do it too. The Almighty (1.20) (el sadday) stands for God’s great power and supply.
God Almighty is perfectly able to fulfill all of His promises.
We encounter this name of God for the first time in Genesis 17: 1: God introduces himself to 99-year-old Abraham when He makes a covenant with him and promises him a son and many offspring.
Nobody can resist this great God or stand in his way.
With this trust Naemi returns to Bethlehem and also back to her God and with this trust Ruth seeks this God.
The book of Ruth is God’s invitation to you today to set off on your way to God, on your way home, when you feel homesick.
If you believe in Jesus and live in a relationship with HIM, then you are together with others on the way home to God. For us, home is not tied to a place, but to a person, to God.
And so the community gains a special meaning: “In a congregation, people come together who are on their way together because they are united by a common goal: They are on their way home together.” (U.Müller)
MAKE YOUR WAY HOME TO GOD TOGETHER WITH US! GOD IS WAITING FOR YOU!
Would you also like to get to know this God?