31 October 2021

“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.” Ruth 1:16

Some of us have not moved to a new land.  But there are others of us who have.  Sometimes it can be scary.  Yet there is often a reason to do it.  The founders of our country moved to this new land to seek religious freedom.  Others before them had explored this land to search for gold or other precious reserves.  But they did not stay; they went back.  The first settlers of the Americas, outside of the Native Americans of course, were seeking a new start when they stepped off the Mayflower into Plymouth, Massachusetts, in October or November of 1620.  They were aiming for a place in present-day Virginia, but they were blown a bit of course to a much colder region where they had to try to survive.  But they did survive, and they gave themselves a fresh new start.  Nearly two centuries later, Lewis and Clark were led by a native, Sacagawea, as they explored the west.  Settlers from the colony and then state of Connecticut moved to what was known as the Northwest Territories.  They founded cities with names similar to those they knew; Lyme, Norwalk, New London, Groton, and many others.  As more settlers moved to the area, the population grew, and Ohio became the 17th state on March 1, 1803.  The first Ohioans had moved to a brand new land.  They must have had some fears and uncertainties starting out in very small communities.  There were reports of regular Indian raids on the settlers.  Some would sit on their porches all night long to stand guard over their house, property, and family.  Though you can understand them, because in their perspective, their land was being taken from them.

13.5 percent of legal Americans are foreign born.  That figure has not changed much from the 13.2 percent of Americans in 1860, though in 1970 it had dipped to an all-time low of 4.7 percent.  Many of our neighbors have come to a new land from and old land.  They all had a reason to come here.  Some did not feel safe where they were.  Though we think violence is bad in the United States, it is much worse in other places of the world.  We do not even hear about a lot of it.  Some are seeking new opportunities in work, or new freedoms.  For everyone, there is apprehension, especially at first.  You do not know whether to trust the people you meet.

In the days when the Judges ruled, before Saul was called as the first king, and before the people even asked for a king, there was a famine in the land of Judah (Ruth 1:1).  Elimelech, who lived in Bethlehem of Judea, decided to take his family to the country of Moab.  Moab is east of the Dead Sea, consisting of part of modern-day Jordan.  They lived there for ten years, and their two sons took Moabite wives.  When they traveled there, they were foreigners, probably unsure what to expect.  But after Elimelech and his two sons died, his wife, Naomi, was left alone with the two Moabite wives, who were now widows.  Hearing that the famine was over in Judah, she decided to return to the land she had come from (Ruth 1:6).

First, Naomi was experiencing unbearable suffering.  Her story reminds us that we are not alone in our suffering, however severe it may be.  She even assumed that it was because God had abandoned her (1:13).  In her discouragement, she did not think it best for anyone to be with her anymore, and figured that her two still-young daughters-in-law could start a new life for themselves.  Orpah went back, but Ruth remained.  Ruth traveled to a new land that she had never been to because she felt a call to trust Naomi’s God and to support Naomi.  Was it because she had become interested in Naomi’s God in the time she had stayed with her?  Was it her connection with Naomi?  Was it because she believed there was nothing left for her in her own land?  Whatever the reason, she herself became a foreigner.

Traci Hartman made the key observation that the journey back to Bethlehem was likely a quiet one at first.  Naomi may have thought that Ruth was throwing the rest of her life away by journeying with her.  They disagreed on whether or not she should come; as the story tells us, “When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her” (1:18).  We can understand Naomi’s perspective, her desire of the best for Ruth, and her bitterness.  To Naomi, Ruth’s mere presence may have been a constant reminder to her of all that she had lost (NP B.2.219).  Yet another important observation, however, is that “when we are in the midst of deep grief, it can be very difficult to see or feel the extraordinary love and care that God provides through those who surround us” (NP B.2.219).  God is speaking to Naomi through the language of People.  She was simply too blind to see that at the time.

God whispers to us in various ways, and if something blinds us, we do not hear God speaking to us.  We finished Mark Batterson’s book, Whisper: How to Hear the Voice of God this past week, in which he highlights seven languages that God speaks to us.  The first language is Scripture, the second is Desire, the third language is Doors, the fourth language is Dreams, the fifth language is People, the sixth language is Promptings, and the Seventh language is Pain.  If you are interested in learning more about these languages, there are still a couple copies of the book available.  We will build on these ways to hear God in our next book starting this week, Barnabas Piper’s Help My Unbelief: Why Doubt is Not the Enemy of Faith.  We will hear God better in some ways than other ways, but we will not hear God at all if we are listening for a loud voice rather than a whisper.  Ruth thought that God had left her behind.  But God left her Ruth.

Does the fact that you are a believer mean that your life will be free from suffering?  If you were Naomi in this story, would you respond like she did?  There are many Naomi’s in our world today.  How can you be a Ruth for them, even if they try to push you away?  Do you feel more like Naomi, who cannot feel God’s presence, Ruth, who is grieving and being pushed away and surely has doubts about her decision, or Orpah, who took the easy way and went back to her family?  All three lost their husbands.  We know that our faith comes with difficult decisions.  We know that we will have a difficult road.  Yet we also are promised that God is with us every step of the way, even when we do not realize it.  Sometimes I feel like Orpah.  If someone doesn’t want to talk to me, I don’t press it.  I will go on my own way.  Other times, I am like Naomi.  I don’t see God working through the negative all the time, or I forget to listen for God in every circumstance.  My goal is to be like Ruth, trusting God in all circumstances even when it means taking risks, and even when people faithful to God or not try to push me away and make me doubt my path.  Relating back to our love languages of God, Ruth probably received a prompting from God.  Her prompting was to go with Naomi and support her no matter what happened.  The name Ruth, after all, when translated from the Hebrew, means “friend.”

When you travel, do you wonder how the people will accept you?  Naomi had been gone for ten years.  What would her friends, whom she had not seen in that time, think of her?  How would they receive her back?  Would they look down on her for bringing a Moabite with her?  As far as Ruth, was her reception a concern for her?  How would she fit in, being a foreigner?  She says to Naomi that her people would become her people, but does she say this without doubt that she will be accepted into that people?  When Alanna gets here, she will not know too many people.  Meeting a lot of new people at once will feel overwhelming, not necessarily because of fear of acceptance, but because she will be in an unfamiliar place.  We can all relate to the story we read in Ruth.  We only see the first part of the story today.  We see the uncertainty.  We see the loss and the suffering.  But we also see God working behind the scenes for both Ruth and Naomi.  Next week’s reading will show us what happened.  In this stage of your life, whether you feel like a Naomi, an Orpah, or a Ruth, do you feel God working behind the scenes?  If you don’t feel God, do you at least know that God is there?  Naomi did not, and she had grown up with her faith in God.  It is okay if you falter.  But what is your responsibility right now?

First, know that you are not alone.  Others before you have gone through what you are going through.  You can see yourself through the characters of the Bible.  You may be making the same accusations and thinking the same things about God that they did.  Second, God is working behind the scenes whether you realize it right now or not.  God worked by placing Ruth in Naomi’s life when she most needed her.  God used Ruth to restore blessing to Naomi, as we will see later in Ruth.  God will use whispers to reach out to you and restore blessings to you too, if you are open to them and do not shut God out.  God will give you restoration.  Third, God is using you to speak to another person.  The gifts that you bring and the words that you say are inspiring another person to draw closer to God.

The responsibility of the larger church is just as important, and something that we can be a part of too.  Jesus told us that the first commandment is to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and that the second commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself (Mark 12:30-31).  Reading the story of Ruth, I hope that we are all pulling for a welcome reception for both of the women returning to Bethlehem.  If we are to offer the same welcome reception today, we are to show love to any newcomer.  The church can pull for a welcome reception to foreigners.  We can welcome someone who may be a bit different than us within our very own church community.  We know that there will always be differences among us, whether it be differences of opinion, of ethnicity, or merely of religious tradition.  But in the goal of working to save all of God’s people, we are called to show love to all of God’s people.  When you enter a new place, or move to a new place, you would hope for the same.  Most of all, as we do this, we are called to model love for God.  We are called to love the Lord with everything we have; not the leftovers of our day, but with everything.

Those who developed the land on which we live modeled courage and perseverance.  They did not take the easy way home and return to Europe, or Connecticut, or wherever they came from.  We live here because of them.  What can you do to forge the way for a new land for the future of God’s people?  Persevere through any doubt that you have.  Listen for God speaking into your life.  Trust God as we collectively as the church forge the way for the future of God’s people.  We may not know the destination, but we will never turn back.  God is behind our efforts every step of the way!  Thanks be to God.  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Ruth 1:1-18
1:1 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.
1:2 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.
1:3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
1:4 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,
1:5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
1:6 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.
1:7 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.
1:8 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.
1:9 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.
1:10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.”
1:11 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?
1:12 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,
1:13 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.”
1:14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
1:15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
1:16 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.
1:17 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!”
1:18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Hebrews 9:11-14
9:11 But when Christ came as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation),
9:12 he entered once for all into the Holy Place, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood, thus obtaining eternal redemption.
9:13 For if the blood of goats and bulls, with the sprinkling of the ashes of a heifer, sanctifies those who have been defiled so that their flesh is purified,
9:14 how much more will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself without blemish to God, purify our conscience from dead works to worship the living God!

Mark 12:28-34
12:28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?”
12:29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one;
12:30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’
12:31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
12:32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’;
12:33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ –this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.”
12:34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Job blessed the Lord.  Though he questioned God, he did not turn from God.  Ultimately, he was rewarded for it.  Job lived an additional one hundred and forty years so that he could see four generations of his family (Job 42:16).  He remained faithful.  One of the most familiar verses that we may know from Job is the following: “The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away.  Blessed be the name of the Lord” (Job 1:21).  He was ready to bless God even when things were taken away from him.  Are you?  God does not mind when we ask God why something happens.  God will remind us that God is and always has been in control, if not of every aspect of our lives, of our final destination.  What does make a difference is if we turn from God and try to seek condolences and/or comfort elsewhere.

Just like there are multiple ways that God can speak to us, there are multiple ways that we can speak to God.  Speaking to God blesses God.  We can speak to God in prayer and we can speak to God through our actions.  But what God sees most is how much effort we put in to blessing the good name of the Lord.  Do not just settle for one way of blessing God.  It won’t go well for you if you say that you bless God through song and leave it at that.  Pouring your heart and soul out with your passion through song is huge.  Seeking the Lord every day, remembering God in every moment, and magnifying the name of God by doing God’s will is even greater.

How is the church magnifying God in today’s world?  As a member of the Northwest Ohio Association’s Witness and Proclamation Team, I am studying the impacts of the border crossing in the southwest regions of the country.  Over the summer and this fall we have been having a lot of conversations about what we do with the information we are receiving from the border.  We have had some interactions with communities in the area to learn about how they are handling the humanitarian crisis and what they are doing to respond.  It is a blessing to hear about these first-hand accounts.  All of the organizations we have interacted with so far deal with only documented immigrants, so there is certainly more to unpack.  One of our team has even traveled to the border and has brought back a report as we have been considering further ways to raise awareness and support their ministries as an association.  First and foremost, we are showing love.  Homeless shelters such as the Humanitarian Respite Center of McAllen, Texas house legal immigrants for a short while until they can get a job or connect with a friend or family member somewhere in the states.  Arise SOTEX of the same town hosts mission trips for youth to have a first-hand experience interacting with documented immigrants and helping to sort through donations.  They always need hands and donations; many of these centers process hundreds of people per week.

Here in our community the Pass it On Clothing Closet and Fish and Loaves are going strong.  Sometimes more donations come in than we have shoppers.  We are trying to get the word out to lower income families who may not have heard of these programs but who would benefit from the ministry.  Pass it On does not limit itself to only Bellevue residents, as it really is one-of-a-kind for our area.  We have a Bellevue Homeless Shelter that is looking for volunteers to join the board so that they can fix the place up and start housing people again.  We have a camp owned by the Heartland Conference at Templed Hills that often has trouble finding volunteers to lead youth through a fun Christian experience.  It is essential to be able to draw our youth to God, especially given that eighty percent of the nation’s youth are unchurched, and our Executive Director of Outdoor Ministries, Jill Frey, is doing her best to make programs happen.  The Willows has reached out to the Bellevue Ministerial Association asking for help leading services on Sundays and Wednesdays for the residents.  When prisons open again, there is need for volunteer Bible Studies so that we do not forget about winning back the incarcerated for God.  The need is here within our community; there is opportunity to serve and magnify the faith of those who will be impacted by these programs.  In our church, we have the Giving Tree.  We have the meal ministry.  We also have our book group.  When I think about these needs, I want to help in all of them, but I realize that I cannot.  It is our responsibility to teach and enable one another to be new leaders of the church so that we can fill these roles.  Be open to God’s calling.  Pick one or two ways to magnify God’s name, and help either myself or another to help enable you to the task.  Ministries are shutting down around Bellevue and around the conference because volunteers are either too busy or do not believe that they are qualified.  You are qualified.  God wants to use you.  What holds you back from magnifying the name of the Lord through your actions?  Worship and praise are one way to bless God.  Study and prayer are another.  If we want to have a balance, we also bless God by seeking, by desiring, by remembering, and of course by serving the will of God.  The more people that we reach, the more people are changed and/or inspired by God’s grace.  We are vessels for God’s grace and glory.

We do not grow as a church community by just reaching out.  We grow as a result of who we are.  As Nayiri Karjian, General Minister of the Living Water Association, notes, “Everything that grows has to be nourished by food and nurtured by energy.  Church growth is no different.  When the church lives its purpose and its calling, when it does effective ministry that changes the world, when it lives God’s love in the world, it grows.  Growth is the consequence of its healthy and purposeful living which becomes its energy and fuel for growth” (Streams of Connection, 10.21.21).  Jesus modeled this for us too.  He did not say to everyone, “Come, follow me.”  He responded to those who called out to him, “Have mercy on me!” (Mark 10:47).  He does not discourage others from seeking him as the disciples were doing.  He accepted the outcasts of society and even went out of his way for them.  The man was blind and was a beggar.  Many assumed that ailments were a direct result of having sinned, by either himself or his family.  But Jesus saw that this was not the case.  What he saw was the faith through the persistence of the blind man.  We don’t suffer because we have sinned.  We suffer because it is an unfortunate part of our life.  Jesus heals that.  And we are the Jesus that the people of today’s world get to see.

Tracy Hartman, a Baptist pastor and a professor of Homiletics in Richmond, noted that this ending of Job is not entirely satisfying.  She writes that it is not uncommon to be disturbed “by the implication that the children Job lost in the divine contest can simply be replaced with new ones.  You don’t comfort grieving parents with the platitude that it is okay, they can have another child.  They do not want a new child; they want the one they had” (NP B.207).  Why does God allow such suffering to stand and remain silent before the pleas of the afflicted?  We do not get this answer in Job.  We only learned that Job stayed faithful even when he did not know the answers.  What we can learn from this is that there are always more questions than answers.  There are always going to be unanswered questions.  The one question you can answer is where you turn when you have unanswered questions.  You may not get the answers, but if you turn to God and seek to bless the Lord anyway, the Lord will bless you back.  If you don’t bless the Lord anyway, you have allowed the evil in the world to begin taking over your soul.  Find ways to bless the Lord.  Worship, magnify, and remember God.  We need all three.  There is no better path than Jesus Christ.  Jesus has the power to lead you back from despair or depression.  Jesus has the power to give you a cause to believe in.  Jesus has the authority to forgive your mistakes and make you whole again.  All that God asks of you is your blessing.  Job’s transformation occurred even before his suffering abated.  It is the awareness of God’s presence that transforms.  And God shines through our actions.  Let us sing our praise to God for finding us and bringing us out of our suffering.  Thanks be to God!  Amen.

Scripture Readings:

Job 42:1-6, 10-17
42:1 Then Job answered the LORD:
42:2 “I know that you can do all things, and that no purpose of yours can be thwarted.
42:3 ‘Who is this that hides counsel without knowledge?’ Therefore I have uttered what I did not understand, things too wonderful for me, which I did not know.
42:4 ‘Hear, and I will speak; I will question you, and you declare to me.’
42:5 I had heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you;
42:6 therefore I despise myself, and repent in dust and ashes.”
42:10 And the LORD restored the fortunes of Job when he had prayed for his friends; and the LORD gave Job twice as much as he had before.
42:11 Then there came to him all his brothers and sisters and all who had known him before, and they ate bread with him in his house; they showed him sympathy and comforted him for all the evil that the LORD had brought upon him; and each of them gave him a piece of money and a gold ring.
42:12 The LORD blessed the latter days of Job more than his beginning; and he had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, a thousand yoke of oxen, and a thousand donkeys.
42:13 He also had seven sons and three daughters.
42:14 He named the first Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.
42:15 In all the land there were no women so beautiful as Job’s daughters; and their father gave them an inheritance along with their brothers.
42:16 After this Job lived one hundred and forty years, and saw his children, and his children’s children, four generations.
42:17 And Job died, old and full of days.

Hebrews 7:23-28
7:23 Furthermore, the former priests were many in number, because they were prevented by death from continuing in office;
7:24 but he holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever.
7:25 Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
7:26 For it was fitting that we should have such a high priest, holy, blameless, undefiled, separated from sinners, and exalted above the heavens.
7:27 Unlike the other high priests, he has no need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for those of the people; this he did once for all when he offered himself.
7:28 For the law appoints as high priests those who are subject to weakness, but the word of the oath, which came later than the law, appoints a Son who has been made perfect forever.

Mark 10:46-52
10:46 They came to Jericho. As he and his disciples and a large crowd were leaving Jericho, Bartimaeus son of Timaeus, a blind beggar, was sitting by the roadside.
10:47 When he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to shout out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”
10:48 Many sternly ordered him to be quiet, but he cried out even more loudly, “Son of David, have mercy on me!”
10:49 Jesus stood still and said, “Call him here.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart; get up, he is calling you.”
10:50 So throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus.
10:51 Then Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” The blind man said to him, “My teacher, let me see again.”
10:52 Jesus said to him, “Go; your faith has made you well.” Immediately he regained his sight and followed him on the way.

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