This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on August 2, 2020. To listen to the full recording, visit our podcast, “Mission Hills United Methodist Church” or search ‘Mission Hills United Methodist Church’ wherever you get your podcasts. If you would like to donate to the ministries of Mission Hills UMC, you can make a secure online gift here.
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them,
“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara,
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
I went away full,
but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi
when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Our scripture this week is the story of Ruth and Naomi, where Naomi experiences a huge loss, and Ruth wouldn’t let her go through it alone. It’s a love story about presence, and our role to show up for others.
If I give you the word family, what words come up for you?
The first few verses of this story tell us a little bit about this family. It sets the scene for the love and kindness that is engrained in Ruth and Naomi. In a family system, the highs and lows often weigh on one another. So when things were going well, they went well for the family, but with that, the opposite is also true.
We read that one day, Naomi’s husband died, and then about 10 years later or so, Naomi’s sons died. To put this into the context at the time, in the social order, a woman with no spouse and no kids fell very low on the class scale, because it meant that there truly wasn’t any support for the woman. Naomi was feeling loss for so many different reasons.
Following the death of her sons, Naomi tells her daughter in laws to go back to Moab, where their families live, and Naomi would then go somewhere new, to Israel. One of the daughters in law said okay, listening to the instructions of Naomi. But the second daughter in law, Ruth, she refused.
In the LGBTQIA+ family, we have this term called chosen family. Essentially, it means that family is less of a genetic term, but a term that reflects the way you are accepted and loved, regardless of familial relation or who you grew up with in your family. Often, queer people whose biological families don’t affirm them, they go off and find a chosen family, a person or group of people who accept and celebrate them as fully themselves.
In a bit of a different way, Naomi’s daughter in law Ruth, is leaning in to this idea of chosen family. She’s willing, and in fact insistent, to stay with Naomi, this grieving woman who has lost both her husband and sons in a short amount of time. She offers Naomi the gift of presence, and even when Naomi is resistant, Ruth stays firm in this offering.
Naomi experienced a huge loss and was grieving, and she was trying to do it alone. But Ruth wouldn’t let her, and pushed Naomi to open up and let Ruth in, out of persistence and kindness. Kindness is all about presence. When we allow ourselves to be fully present, showing up as our full and authentic selves, we allow others to see the fullness of who we are too, who God created us to be.
Can you think of a person in your life who offers you the gift of presence? Who in your life allows you to show up as your full self?
Ruth was present with Naomi for long enough, until she finally got to see who Naomi really was, what she really was going through. Often, we see Ruth as the hero of this story, but we also can’t discount the strength it took Naomi to show up as her full self too, scars and bruises and grief included. Both of these women inspire a message of strength, of presence, and of kindness.
If we are really created in the image of God, if that is really true, it means that when we show up as our true selves, we are being kind, in its most stripped down version. If God is kind and loving, being ourselves is also kind and loving. So when we put on a front, try to polish ourselves, act like we’re okay if we aren’t, we aren’t able to show up as authentically. And that gift of kindness may be trickier to be revealed to us.
What act of kindness have you witnessed recently?
After Ruth made her mind up that she wasn’t leaving Naomi in her time of need, she shared some tough love, some tough kindness with her mother in law, as to why she would stay with her. Ruth says this:
“Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
In other words, Ruth tells Naomi that she is there for her for the long haul, that no matter how ugly life gets, she would continue to show up as her full self, offering presence and kindness, so that Naomi could show up as her full self too. She would risk the separation from her biological family, the journey to Israel, the challenges that accompanying others through grief brings, all so that Naomi could one day show up fully again.
I’m so inspired by this offering of kindness, through the lens of presence. When we show up for those around us, we allow them to show up to and for us, no matter the number of tears that flow, no matter the circumstances and challenges, no matter the scars we perceive. Because in the words of Ruth, “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
My challenge for us this week, is to allow yourself to show up as fully as you can be, for someone else. Maybe this is someone who has been consistently showing up for you, yet you still have walls up that don’t need to be there. Maybe this is someone who you feel is closing off to others, and your gift of presence may allow them to show up as their full selves.
As we venture from this space today, may we value deeply the gift of showing up for those we love. May we seek relationships like that of Ruth and Naomi, chosen family members who emulate authenticity, kindness, and deep faith. And may you trust and believe in your soul, that you are worth showing up for, that your full self is a holy reflection of God’s image.