21st Sunday after Pentecost
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, dear friends in Christ,
A while back a company started running some ads in which they used a certain phrase that’s kind of become associated with them. The company was the credit card company, Capital One, and their ploy was to convince you that with all of the extra fees, penalties, and high interest rates of so many credit cards out there, their card was different. And the phrase they coined was “What’s in your wallet?” The point, I think, was to make you stop and think about what kind of credit card you have and how their Capital One card was so much better. So, they asked the question: What’s in your wallet?
Well, there’s something that God cares about far more than what’s in your wallet. And the question that our text for this morning leads us to ask ourselves is: What’s in your heart? And particularly a time when we must ask ourselves – consciously or not- about what’s in our heart is when we have to make decisions. We make decisions all of the time, don’t we? And often our decisions have really little consequence, like, “What am I going to eat for dinner? Green beans or carrots?” “Should I watch this movie or that movie?” But then there are some decisions that we make that are much more important, like, “Whom should I marry?” “What college should I attend?” “What career should I pursue?” Those decisions may affect the direction of our entire lives. Well, interspersed throughout all of the decisions we make in life are the decisions we make as Christians. Decisions like, “Should I serve God or not?” “Do I do what is God-leasing or not?” “Do I do what God wants or what feels good?”
And then add to all of that a further dimension to the decisions and the choices we make day after day: hardships and trouble. It can be even more challenging to God-pleasing decisions when we’re in the midst of heart-ache and trouble. We just heard about the 10 lepers. They were in misery- forced to die a miserable death ostracized from society, yet, in their trouble they cried out for mercy from the only One who could do something for them. But after Jesus healed them, they had another decision: Do we return to thank Jesus or keeping going on our way and get back to our lives? Well, the same is true for us. Do I blame God for the troubles and problems of my life? When I face hardship is one of my first thoughts, “How could God allow this?” “When I meet trouble do I become bitter and angry and upset or continue to serve God and trust in Him?”
Well, in our text for this morning, a lady named Ruth was faced with a very important decision. The time of our text is during the point in Israel’s history when the nation was ruled by “judges.” This was a time of shocking religious and moral degeneration, we’re told, “Everyone did as he saw fit,” foreign nations invaded Israel, it was a mess. But there was one God-fearing family who because of a famine in Judah moved to Moab in order to find food and survive. Now Moab was a neighboring country to Israel, probably about a 70 mile walk, so about the distance from here to Grand Rapids. But while they were there the family’s dad died. Then the 2 sons married Moabite women. This wasn’t something directly forbidden by God as was marrying Canaanites. The Moabites were actually a cousin people of the Israelites as they were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot. But, unfortunately, they had abandoned God and for the most part became unbelievers and enemies of the Israelites.
Well, after 10 years of being in Moab, Naomi’s two sons also died- leaving 3 widows. In our day it’s hard enough to lose a child or lose a spouse, but in these days it was even more difficult. The men were the ones who were expected to take care of and provide for the family, with them gone their lives would have been very difficult. But then Naomi heard that the famine had ended in her hometown in Judah and decided to head back. It was common courtesy for both of her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah, to accompany for a little while, but then turn back. So after a while Naomi encourages them to go ahead and return home.
This situation led to an important choice Ruth and Orpah had to make: return home or remain with Naomi. Consider what this meant for the ladies. Going with Naomi would mean that their hopes of getting married as foreigners in Israel would have been very slim, going with Naomi would have meant leaving their family and probably never seeing them again, going would have meant leaving behind their culture, their home, their nation, their friends, pretty much everything they knew.
Orpah chose to return to her home. Notice Naomi’s apparent disapproval. First, when addressing Ruth she refers to Orpah no longer as “daughter” or even “daughter-in-law” but now it’s “your sister-in-law.” Besides that, when Naomi points out that Orpah has left she’s pointing to an example Ruth could logically follow, but not one she’s encouraging her to emulate. Finally, we’re not told that Naomi kisses Orpah, but Orpah kissed Naomi and then left never to be heard of again. What happened to Orpah? Finally, we don’t know. But from Naomi’s words that “she has gone back to her people and her gods” gives the impression that she went the way of the world and not only turned her back on Naomi, but turned her back on the Lord she had come to know and likely died an unbeliever.
But Ruth’s actions were different. She chose differently. “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. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.” Remember too that she is speaking to Naomi. Naomi who has been trying her faith by seeming to permit her to go back to her family’s home and her nation’s gods. Add to that how Naomi – in her frustration and despair- has spoken about God! The God to whom Ruth is committing herself to continue to follow is the God whom Naomi has in essence described as a harsh judge and executioner! Who has caused all of her troubles and emptiness who’s “hand has gone against” her!
So, not only did Ruth know that the true God is the God of the Israelites, but she also saw a fellow believer who was struggling, struggling under the ways of God, doubting God’s goodness and grace. So in loving the Lord her God above all else and loving her neighbor as herself, Ruth set aside any personal goals, any marriage prospects, an “easy” life, any worldly gain, and chose to live as a poor beggar and take care of her mother-in-law.
Well, what about you? Would that have been your decision? I guess we won’t likely face a decision like this, but we do face decisions of the same nature every day, don’t we? Do I let this conversation with my spouse escalate into an argument or deal with patience and love and kindness? Do I join my friends and do something I know is wrong or do I show my faith in God and stand up for what is right? Do I complain about my life and harbor a resentment against God about how things are going or do I joyously forsake all things for Him and gladly help others who are struggling? If we’re honest with ourselves, each of us here has to admit we’re guilty. We don’t deserve to be included among God’s people.
In self-less love Ruth chose to remain with Naomi and give up her life to help and take care of Naomi. Why? Well, it all goes back to where we started, doesn’t it? What’s in your heart? Finally, our decisions are made from what is in our hearts. So, what’s in your heart?
A self-less, faithful love that Ruth showed Naomi didn’t originate or come from her, did it? Really, it came from the God whom she had come to know and love. The God of faithful promises, the God who remained faithful to His covenant people, the God who would fulfill every promise that he made and bring into this world the promised Messiah, the promised Savior of the world, the one whom God had promised to Abraham would be a blessing to every nation on earth, the God who promised Ruth’s first parents Adam and Eve that He would send a Savior to crush the devil’s head, the God who described Himself to Moses as the Lord the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger and abounding in love and faithfulness, forgiving wickedness, rebellion, and sin. This is the God whom Ruth came to know and love and serve.
But, do you know any less about the love of God than Ruth? Actually, you know even more! You know how God kept His promise to send a Savior, you know how at just the right time this very Ruth’s great, great, great, great, etc grandson was born! Jesus came to this earth and had a heart perfectly devoted to God, Jesus came and made every right decision, including the decision to go the cross. Why? Because at God’s very heart is a love we’ll never get to the bottom. At God’s heart is an incredible desire to see you in His paradise.
The love of God that transformed Ruth’s heart is the very same love of God that you and I know. This love of God transforms our hearts. It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when we have a choice to keep going on with our own lives or to thank Him like the one leper, to thank him. It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when we are faced with trouble and trial –even as the apostle Paul was who faced death- to choose to rely on God rather than become upset and bitter and frustrated. It’s the love of God in our hearts that moves us when faced with the choice of doing what’s good for me or doing what’s good for someone else, to serve others just like Ruth did.
And knowing this affects so much of your life! Instead of facing decisions from a self-centered standpoint, face decisions by asking yourself first, “Who is my God? What has my God graciously done for me? How can I use this decision to thank Him and live for Him?” If you’re a young person, I’m so glad you’re here to hear this. You’re being faced with more and more decisions in life and it may be tempted to base your decisions on your own wants or desires, or your feelings, or on what other people think, but instead of allowing the bad decisions of the people around you influence you, think about how your God-pleasing decisions and choices might influence the people around you!
In the end, of course, God shows himself to be the very God who does all things well. In the end God uses His faithful servant Ruth for His work. He showers even further grace upon Ruth by using her in His plan of bringing the Savior into this world. In the end? Boaz becomes the Kinsman-Redeemer. As a close relative he could buy Naomi’s family’s land and marry her oldest son’s widow. Then as Kinsman-redeemer his first born son would carry the name of the family he redeemed. God blessed them and Ruth had a son who would later become the grandfather of great King David who would be the great, great, great, etc. ancestor to the Redeemer, the Savior.
So, yes, in the end God does all things well. But the question remains: what about you? In what ways might God work through you? How might God use your godly decisions for working good and bringing His grace to more people just like Ruth? What’s in your heart? Since it’s the amazing love of your Lord may you live and make decisions out of faithful love and thanksgiving to Him! Amen.