Ruth and Naomi: Relationships Matter

This sermon was originally preached via podcast and Facebook Live at Mission Hills United Methodist Church in San Diego, California on January 3, 2021. 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.

Ruth 1:16-18

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.

Let’s set the scene. Imagine living in a time when there was a huge disaster that hit not just your community, but your entire country. There’s this financial crisis due to it, and economically, things just weren’t okay. Imagine trying to live your normal life while everything around you is in so much disarray. Imagine trying to raise kids, have a partner, care for pets, maintain friendships, all while not knowing what is going on in the world. 

Believe it or not, I’m not describing our current political and social climate, though it may help you to understand our story better by making that connection. No, this story is set in a time when there was a huge famine, and our characters today were doing the best they could to raise their family in the midst of it. And it was hard.

The family learned that things were better in Moab, the country nearby, and so the family made the tough decision to leave Bethlehem and go there. At one point, Naomi’s husband died, leaving her a widow to bring up her 2 sons. Her sons each met local girls from Moab, and married them, Orpah and Ruth. From there, both of Naomi’s sons died, leaving Naomi feeling alone and without any support. She decided to go home to Bethlehem, which was a risky decision, but she didn’t feel she had a choice. Her daughters in law, Orpah and Ruth, say they’ll go back with her, but Naomi says no, that they should stay with their people while they’re still young. The girls refuse to leave her, knowing she’s in pain, and Ruth specifically will not leave her. This is where our passage starts today, in a heartfelt message spoken to Naomi from Ruth, her daughter in law.

“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.

In an act of love, Ruth stuck with Naomi in her time of deepest grief, even though Ruth herself was going through so much herself. This passage teaches us about the strength and resilience of love. Ruth had just lost her husband and was going through an incredibly turbulent time, trying to fit into a new family, so much change going on around her, and still, she knew the power of family, of deep friendship, and she said to Naomi, no, we are doing this together. I am not going anywhere. 

This is the kind of love required of us, and it’s the kind of love that’s been modeled for us, through Christ’s love for those he encountered, and by God’s love for us. Jesus walked around having relationships with all sorts of people from all kinds of backgrounds, teaching them, reminding them of what is right and wrong, eating with them, and defending them when they were being mocked or persecuted. Jesus himself didn’t have an easy life. He certainly had stuff of his own to deal with. Yet, grounded in the love of God, his value for relationships, much like Ruth’s, took over, and he valued that. 

The kind of love described here isn’t trying to say that we shouldn’t take care of ourselves. It doesn’t say that sacrificial love means putting the other person’s oxygen mask on first. It says that in tough times and good times alike, we have the huge power of accompanying those we love on the journeys of their lives. And, in the reverse, that the people who love us will do the same for us. 

Who has been someone who, like Ruth, loved you well in a time you needed love the most?

I think about all those similarities between 2020 and the times Ruth and Naomi were alive. There are so many. We’ve had so much challenging stuff thrown at us this past year. Our church alone has faced some huge obstacles. And each of us have too. So yes, even though this year has been less than ideal, we’ve also gained some really needed perspective for our relationships.

The relationship between Ruth and Naomi gives us some insight into how we are to value those who mean the most to us in life, whether they’re family, friends, or a church family. The pandemic exposed, more than ever, our innate longing for deep, meaningful, authentic relationships. 

I think back to days when I was feeling like absolute garbage, unable to think properly or do much of anything, and I’d get a text from someone I hadn’t talked to in a while. I think about the times I wanted nothing more than to skip the Zoom meeting that was scheduled, because I just was so sick of them, but I showed up anyways, and left the meeting feeling more uplifted and connected. These moments, while seemingly small, are huge, in that they remind me that in order to have relationships that last through the rough stuff, we need to continue showing up for one another. 

This church family has continued to show up for one another. I look back to March, when we thought initially ‘okay, we’ll be online only for two weeks and then be back to normal in time for Easter’. You all showed up online, participated, and stuck with it, even though so much had changed. Week after week, you show up to worship, board meetings, Dinner Church, The Voyage, and you show up for me, for our staff, for each other. When I look at other churches and talk to other clergy, I can honestly tell you that this is rare. You all are showing up for each other in a way that not all churches are doing. And what that teaches me, is how much you value one another. I couldn’t ask for a better community to lead, a community that shows up for the ones who they value.

We show up for people because someone has shown up for us. We love because someone has loved us first. This cycle of love and accompaniment began when we were divinely created by God, a God who has shown up for us from the very beginning in miraculous ways. And God teaches us that love is about just that, the active, alive, and ever-growing acts of love that we give and receive by showing up for others, and by allowing them to show up for us. 

As we leave today, may you allow yourself, like Ruth, to show up for people you care for. May you, like Naomi, seek to accept the love being given to you, even when it feels safer to stay isolated. And may you trust and know that we are commanded and invited to say to those around us, that ‘where you go, I’ll go’, with Christ’s example as our guide. Amen.

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