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Ruth: Redeeming Grace  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  34:20
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As Ruth, Orpah and Naomi begin their journey back, they reach a crossroads. Come and explore what it is that leads Naomi to try and turn her daughters-in-law back, and what it is that helps Ruth keep going. Lots to learn.

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Intro me.
We’re continuing working through the ancient story of Ruth found in the bible, a story over three thousand years old. We might think that distance would mean the story will be so alien, so remote that there couldn’t be anything that connects with our world, couldn’t be anything to learn for our modern age, our radically different place.
There definitely are customs in here which seem strange - particularly in the chapters to come - but there are also profound resonances with our day, our experience - things three thousand years hasn’t changed at all.
The setting for today’s chapter of our story is a journey - it’s the very beginning of what’s almost certainly going to be a long and difficult journey. Where the travel, the road itself, is just the tip of the iceberg - because, if they go through with it, this will be a life-changing journey - a journey into a different place, people, world.
Some of you, I know, have been on a physical journey like that across our globe: leaving your place, your people, your world and making your way into a new one. You’ll understand what this is really like in a way the rest of us can only begin to imagine - you’ll have experienced this first-hand. Maybe some more of us will have considered such a radical move: choosing to leave the known, the familiar, and step into the unknown. Often, for a journey like that, you’d want to have a guide, right, someone who knew the terrain, knew the dangers, knew the customs, knew the path.
What if right at that moment you are about leave the world and the life you’ve known, at the last moment, just as you’re getting onto the plane or boarding the ship, your guide, the only one who has actually experienced you destination, the one you are counting on, looks you in the eye, shakes their head, and says “turn back”?
Can you imagine that? Are you going back? Or pressing on?
Let’s read together Ruth 1:6-19 - page 267 in these blue bibles. Ruth and we’re in the first chapter, we’ll start at verse 6 - look for the tiny 6. Page 267 and Lorna’s going to read for us this morning.
Ruth 1:6–19 NIV
When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons—would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!” At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” But Ruth replied, “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 even death separates you and me.” When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
Three widows at a crossroads, weeping. One, a generation older, is Naomi, a refugee from the land of Israel, who came to Moab years ago with her family. She is heading home without that family: her husband and both her sons have died.
The two younger figures with her are her daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth - her sons’ wives - now their widows. The three are a tight-knit group - perhaps because of how much they’ve suffered together - shared adversity can really bond people. They have become deeply connected through the troubles of this life.
As Naomi sets off on the road home, Orpah and Ruth join her. But then, with tear-filled eyes, she begins to try and turn them back. The only family she has left. The people she’s closest to in this world. On the road to her own country where, it seems, there’s at least food. Why would she do that?
I think we have to conclude it’s because she loves them and thinks it’s what will be best for them.
Think about it: if she just wanted rid of them - because they were too much of a burden; or talked too much; or had terrible fashion sense or really bad BO or something - if she just wanted rid of them she could have snuck out in the middle of the night while they were asleep.
But it’s clear the three love one another - all the weeping is testimony to that. That the girls set out on a long, dangerous journey with her is testimony to that. Naomi acknowledges their love for her in her prayer in v8 - the kindness they’ve shown her. The way she tries to persuade them to turn back, the reasons she uses, point to her love and care for them in return.
Go back and find new husbands is her first pitch. Ruth 1:8-9 . In that ancient culture, a husband meant provision, protection, security - and children who were like your pension and care in old age. That’s what Naomi’s love for Ruth and Oprah means she wants for them.
Ruth 1:8–9 NIV
Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.” Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud
But they’re determined, and they turn down Naomi’s offer with a firm “no”- Ruth 1:10 we will go “with you to your people.” So Naomi goes further, not just pointing to the hope for provision and security if they turn back. But warning them there’s no such hope if they go ahead. That’s what v11-12 are: no hope of more sons for Naomi who could in time be husbands to Ruth and Orpah. And implicitly no hope ahead: no way anyone else would marry a foreign widow either.
Ruth 1:10 NIV
and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
Naomi’s love makes her want the girls to see there’s hope if they turn back, no hope if they go ahead. Turning back is what she thinks is best for them. Although there may be food ahead, Naomi sees nothing else - it’s hopeless. And hopelessness is infectious. Ultimately one of the girls, Orpah, is convinced it is indeed hopeless, and so with a final parting kiss she turns back.
Why does Naomi see the road ahead as hopeless? Practically speaking, humanly speaking, naturally speaking, her argument is very reasonable - responsible, even. She’s right she won’t have more sons. She’s right husbands for widows, for foreign widows, are unlikely. And it’s her bitterness which steals her hope for anything beyond this.
See at the end of Ruth 1:13 - “it is more bitter for me than for you” [she says, even though both Ruth and Orpah have been widowed!] “it is more bitter for me than you” - why? - “because the LORD’s hand has turned against me.” The word-picture of the LORD’s hand there just means God’s acts. Naomi sees God himself acting against her in her circumstances. She’s allowed her circumstances to make her bitter - and her bitterness towards God naturally breads hopelessness.
Ruth 1:13 NIV
would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!”
There’s a beautiful symmetry in the original language which makes us expect this segment of the story which started with a departing kiss and weeping in v9 to close in v14 when those two signs are reversed: weeping and a departing kiss. It feels like a conclusion - but then we realise only Orpah has departed.
Naomi sees the road ahead as hopeless - Orpah has joined her in that - but Ruth sees differently. Ruth sees differently so somehow, as Orpah walks away, instead Ruth clings on to Naomi - and clings on to hope. Naomi tries one last approach in v15:
Ruth 1:15 NIV
“Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
You can almost feel her pointing to the shrinking figure of Orpah as she walks away, heads back home; she puts the peer pressure squeeze on: “Orpah has grasped how hopeless this path is; be like Orpah; you should join her.” Orpah has swallowed Naomi’s hopelessness, been infected by it - but despite the pressure, still Ruth clings on.
We’ve thought about why Naomi tries to turn the girls back. Now we need to think about why Ruth presses on.
It seems from what’s written here that it is love for Naomi, the relationship and connection with Naomi that’s in the foreground as Ruth takes her stand and refuses to turn back. In Ruth 1:14, Ruth clings to Naomi; it’s not the destination but the company. In verse 16 it’s Naomi again; not the destination but the company - don’t urge me to leave you or turn back from you.
Ruth 1:14 NIV
At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
Ruth 1:16 (NIV)
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you.
And at the end of her famous statement she returns to the same thing: Ruth 1:17
Ruth 1:17 (NIV)
May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
It seems Naomi is in the foreground of Ruth’s thinking the whole time: she not be separated from Naomi. And Naomi seems to understand it that way too - Ruth 1:18 Ruth is determined to go with her.
Ruth 1:18 NIV
When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
Ruth doesn’t talk longingly about Naomi’s descriptions of the Bethlehem landscape or the impressive social policies of Israelite society; not about the splendour of the tabernacle or the goodness of the Mosaic Law. The heart and summit of her famous profession is sharing Naomi’s God as Ruth joins her people - but it’s root - “where you go I will go” - and its conclusion - “where you die I will die” - is relationship with one individual among that people: Naomi.
The relationship, the connection seems to be the key driver here. Ruth’s decisive commitment to the LORD - “your God my God” - seems to be driven by her loving relationship with one of his people. It’s almost as if relationship compels Ruth to cling on to Naomi and that clinging on will carry her all the way into God’s people, all the way to bowing to the LORD as her God.
And it’s relationship almost in spite of Naomi’s words: If we were to evaluate Naomi as an evangelist based on her message here, we’d have to give her 0/10 - even if we’re rounding up. Total fail. Where was the presentation of God’s holiness and justice? What of His mighty power shown through creation and His loving kindness in nature’s provision? Where was the urgent call to obedience in order to enjoy the blessing He has promised?
But it seems her relationship with her daughters-in-law, her genuine love for them - along with her deep identity as one of God’s people, as a follower of the LORD who could return to His land and His care, is enough.
I think it’s really important we see the significance of relationship here. As a church, we exist to multiply disciples - to make more followers of Jesus who, in turn, also want to share the hope that we have in him. We spend a lot of time talking and thinking about this because it isn’t just one priority among many, it’s the reason we exist.
We sum up the way we think we can best go about this mission with three words: participation, journey and … relationship:
Participation: we think every Christian here shares this mission - not just the pros, not just those who find it easy. If you join Hope City, you join this mission - it’s a package deal.
Journey: we think for most people, coming to faith is a journey made up of lots of small steps. Each step counts and thankfully we can all manage small steps.
Finally, Relationship: we think most people who come to faith do so in relationship with someone who already follows Jesus.
How’s this for a passage underlining that last point? Naomi’s words are not a model for us in how we approach trying to share the hope that we have in Jesus: telling people to give up and turn back from pursuing him, that we’re chilled if they go worship other gods. Perhaps a comfort for us when we mangle our words - but not a model.
Naomi’s deeply compelling relationships are absolutely a model for us, though. Like I said, I think the passage shows us Naomi really loves Orpah and Ruth - and they love her too. Yes, Naomi’s vision of what would be best for them is clouded by her bitterness - so her words don’t measure up - but she wants what’s best for them.
And in return, in relationship, Ruth loves Naomi so much she’s willing to leave everything, risk everything, change everything to be with her. How do your relationships with those around you who don’t know Jesus yet stack up next to that? Look, I’ve got nothing here. I settle for acquaintance. Distant acquaintance! Would anyone turn their whole life upside down to stick with you? Or even just forego the next episode in their current boxed set on Netflix?
One of my missionary friends says he thinks one of the reasons we struggle so much in sharing our faith is that we just don’t really care about the people around us, don’t really love them much. And I wonder how much that’s true.
What could we do about this? How do you build a deeper relationship, a deeper love? Time to bring out the handy BLESS acronym we often use to think about small steps we can take in mission. B - begin with prayer. What about asking God to give you much more love for those around you, asking him to deepen your relationships with them. S - first S - serve with love. Sometimes love is simply a decision; a choice. Sometimes simply acting out love by serving the people around you can be a real way to build that love in yourself, to build that relationship.
There’s much more to think through around this - but there’s more in this passage too so we have to move on. The other thing I really want us to think about in today’s passage is just how dramatic Ruth’s decision is - ultimately what a huge step of faith it is. Here’s what I mean: Ruth in her famous line here, is choosing to leave everything behind.
She’s leaving behind her place, the land of Moab. Most likely that’s the only place she’s ever known. Weather she’s used to. Paths she knows. Plants, animals she’s spent a lifetime around.
She’s leaving behind her people - wider family there in Moab; parents that Naomi directs her back to in v8. Probably brothers and sisters; uncles, aunts, cousins. But more than this, a whole nation. A language. A history. A culture.
She’s leaving behind her gods - tied up with lands and people in the ancient mind: gods were associated with particular places, with particular tribes. Naomi tells Ruth in v15 that Orpah is going back to her people and her gods. Ruth instead in leaving them behind.
She’s choosing to leave everything behind - and yet she doesn’t really know that much about where she’s going.
There’s the place: she’ll have heard stories of Israel, of Bethlehem but that’s no substitute for actually being there, feet on the ground.
There’s the people: Not a soul in Israel will speak the Moabite language; every word will be in Hebrew all day every day. Every language has its tricky corners - I know English does - but I’ve studied Hebrew pretty seriously for four years and I can tell you it’s definitely tougher than the other languages I’ve made a start on. Even after years, she’ll never pass for a native speaker.
And then every culture has its subtleties - you think you know how to make a cup of tea and then you arrive in the UK, right? Or have you tried finishing a phone conversation here? You have to say bye at least four times before it’s done. She knows some of the culture from Naomi’s family but that’s hardly total immersion.
But more than that, she’s choosing a whole life of being foreign, an outsider. Racism isn’t a modern invention - it’s as old as the hills. She’s be a fool not to anticipate difficulty and rejection, at least from some - especially as a Moabite. Moab hadn’t exactly got on well with Israel up to this point and wouldn’t hereafter either.
And there’s God, the LORD. Ruth obviously knows something, perhaps quite a lot, from Naomi and her family. But she’s probably never read or even heard much Scripture. It’s very unlikely that she fully and deeply understands what it will mean for her to take Naomi’s God as her own.
But Ruth is all-in; in with two feet; Ruth “bets the farm” if you know the phrase. This is a step of faith - because she does not fully know where it will take her. Over the coming weeks, she’ll see and we’ll see some more. Spoiler: it’s quite good. But make no mistake, this is a HUGE step of faith.
Have you ever taken a step like that, one so large, so significant, with so much cost in what you’re leaving behind, with little clarity about exactly what’s ahead? Or, perhaps, have you been at the threshold of taking a step like that - and then pulled back, or been talked out of it?
A good analogue might be when Jesus first called his disciples to follow him. In Luke’s gospel, James, John and Peter were fishermen one day and disciples the next. Luke 5:11
Luke 5:11 NIV
So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.
You can bet the whole world would have told them to turn back, not just Naomi. It would have been so much easier to stick with fishing - they knew what they were doing; they knew where their next meal was coming from; they had homes to go to, boats to fish from. Provision. Security.
Yet they left everything behind: place, people, stuff; the left it all behind and followed Jesus. Who doesn’t seem to have told them much about what they were getting into at all beyond the rather cryptic “from now on you will fish for people” - hardly a game-plan for the whole rest of their lives. They took a step of faith.
The truth is that every Christian has a similar story to tell. Perhaps not as dramatic-seeming, but we didn’t fully understand where choosing to follow Jesus would lead - I think many of us would say we didn’t understand much about what it would mean at all! I think most of us knew there was a cost, that we were leaving something behind, giving something up - certainly I knew I was letting go of the steering wheel of my life, giving up control; I knew that was serious and it would have implications. But I think most of us didn’t fully understand what it would cost - probably still don’t.
I doubt we have that many believers here who took a step of faith as epic as Ruth’s - but every believer here knows what it is to take a step of faith. I expect some of us got right to the edge and backed away a bunch of times first, turning back to the life we knew - but every believer had to start with a step of faith.
What if you have never taken that step? Perhaps that’s where you are today: right at the crossroads.
Have you heard the call to follow Jesus? Do you know the direction the road leads at least, even if you don’t know what the destination will look like yet? And yet I expect you hear the call of home, too: Provision, security, the familiar, the known. Do you feel the cost, at least some of the cost?
The truth is there are only two paths away from that crossroads. Turn back or press on. No middle ground. So what are you going to do?
Let me take this closer to today’s passage: perhaps you know a Christian, family or friend - perhaps you care about them deeply and you know they have chosen to walk that path of following Jesus. Perhaps they’re really not that impressive - like Naomi here. Perhaps they are not very persuasive - though I hope they’re not actually trying to persuade you to turn back, like Naomi does.
But you’re at the crossroads with them and you’re either going ahead, with them, or going back without them. So what are you going to do?
Let me tell you about one more crossroads: Jesus, the night before he died, was in a garden, praying. Unlike our crossroads, he knew what was ahead of him if he went on: the hatred, the beatings, the cross, the grave. Everything in the world would be calling him to turn back. And yet, his love for you called him on; he would take your punishment in your place so that you could be restored to relationship with God.
Jesus went on, not back - even more courageous than Ruth, even more determined, driven by an even deeper love; love for you. Jesus was all-in for relationship - all-in so he could be with you forever.
The question is are you in? Every journey starts with a single step. This journey starts with a single step of faith. Are you ready to take that right now? I’m going to put a simple prayer on the screen which you can use to take that step. I’ll pray it in a moment. You can join me and take that step.
God, I was going the wrong way. I’m sorry.
I want to go the right way.
Thank you that Jesus did everything right, yet took the punishment for all my wrong when he died on the cross
Thank you that Jesus rose into new life, and that I can share that new life because of him
I want to follow you now - so as best as I know how, I give you my life.
Did you pray that prayer? Please let someone know. If there’s someone you care about who already follows Jesus, tell them. If you don’t know who to speak to, tell me. If you’re on the livestream, we’ll put up a button you can click to say “I prayed that prayer” and then, if you want to, you’ll be able to connect with one of our team.
Jesus was all-in; all-in for a relationship with you and me. Let’s pray.
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