Sermon: "Ordinary Saints," Ruth 1:1-18, All Saints Day - Sunday, November 1st, 2015

The service was centered on Ruth 1:1-18, the opening chapter in the book of Ruth. In this initial passage, in a stirring speech Ruth the Moabite swears loyalty to her Israelite mother-in-law Naomi. The Moabites were the sworn enemies of Israel, and Ruth risks all by leaving her own people and is adopted by a new people—Israel. 

The Book of Ruth tells the story of how a widow, Naomi; her daughter-in-law from Moab, Ruth; and a wealthy farmer from Bethlehem, Boaz, make possible the birth of Obed, the grandfather of King David. The book of Ruth shows how the actions and commitments of ordinary and even unexpected people such as foreigners and widows can change the course of history for the better. 

"Ordinary Saints"
Rev. Ryan Slifka

The story of Ruth is a unique one from the bible for several reasons. But one that’s always struck me is that it is one of the few that fixes its spotlight primarily on women. It’s an ordinary story. About two ordinary women.

First there is Naomi. There was a famine in their homeland of Judea, so Naomi makes the trek with her husband, Elimilech, and their two sons Mahlon and Chillion away from home to the land of Moab. And so they settle in this strange land, hoping to forge a new life. Eventually Naomi’s husband dies, and her two sons marry some of the locals. One’s name is Orpah. And the other is the second woman that is the focus of this story: Ruth. They are the ones that the whole story orbits around.

Ten years pass, and the story says, Naomi’s sons both die. They both die before either Orpah or Ruth could have children. So all three, Naomi, Ruth and Orpah are completely without hope. According to the culture and the times in which they live no husbands and no children mean that they have no one to care for them in the present. Or to care for them in their old age. They are alone and completely vulnerable.

So Naomi hears that the famine is over back home, and she decides to risk the trip back home. She tells her daughters-in-law not to bother with her anymore. She has no sons. No security, no future. “I have no more sons to offer you,” she says, “you’d better go back and live with your own people.”

Because you see, Ruth and Orpah had married in to the family from over the border in Moab. They are Moabites. Different race. Different culture. Different religion, even. In fact, they are from the culture that Naomi’s people look down on the most. In the book of Genesis we hear that the Israelites think of the Moabites as in-bred hillbillies. We’re supposed to boo and hiss every time we hear the word “Moab.” They are supposed to be the bad guys. It’s sort of like Palestinians marrying into an Israeli family. So Naomi tells them to go back home to their mother’s houses.  Because maybe there they can find the safety, the security, and the future that they need. With their own people.

Orpah does the intelligent thing. Through tears she hugs and kisses both Ruth and Naomi goodbye and she leaves. She heads back to her own people. Back to life as she knew it. But Ruth does something incredible, something brave, something foolish—maybe both. Ruth it says, “clings” to Naomi. Ruth says to her mother-in-law, the younger woman says to the older woman who is completely different from she is, Ruth says “don’t press me to leave you or turn back from following you. Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people. Your God shall be my God.” Naomi has no future. She has nothing to offer. Yet Ruth, someone completely different from her in every single way, refuses to leave her no matter what and joins her in her faith. On the journey home.

If you think about it, for a story in the bible this is a pretty ordinary story. It’s an admirable and inspiring story for sure. But it’s ordinary. If you remember our sermon series on the book of Job, you’ll remember that God shows up out in a whirlwind and speaks to Job face to face. But not here. Throughout our passage, and the rest of the book of Ruth there are no direct divine encounters. There are no miracles. There are no signs or visions. There’s no speaking in tongues. God is mentioned once and a while, sure. But God never shows up in any kind of obvious way. You could say that it’s just like most of our lives. Most of the time, anyway. Life is generally less than miraculous, less than visionary. Less ecstatic, less super-charged with God’s presence. Like our own lives, like our own stories, the story of Ruth and Naomi is pretty ordinary, pretty everyday. Pretty mundane.

There isn’t much vision of God in this story. It is so everyday and ordinary. And yet, this is what makes it extraordinary. It’s what makes it glorious. At the end of this book, Ruth and Naomi make it home, they make it back to Judah together. And there’s this scene where Naomi, is cradling this newborn baby in her arms, nursing at her breast. And it’s Ruth’s baby. The women of the neighborhood gather around. “A son has been born to Naomi,” they say. And the women name him Obed, it says, who “became the father of Jesse, the Father of David.” David, of course, being the greatest king in Israel’s history. Whose line eventually extends through space and time. All the way to Jesus. Just goes to show you. Pay attention to those genologies!

Naomi who was too old, who’d lost everything, and Ruth who threw away everything to journey with her.  These two ordinary women with seemingly nothing to offer the world, become a part of the purposes of God. The book of Ruth is the story about two women, two determined people who have met significant challenges and heartaches in their lives. Yet, these two women who are as different as people can be from each other, they cling together. And they journey together, leaving their old lives behind. These two women who on their own seem to be living a small and unsignificant story. Yet, they are drawn together in their suffering and their loss. And they become a part of God’s story. With Ruth’s simple words: “Where you go, I will go; Your people shall be my people. Your God shall be my God.” With these simple words they are bound together. And their ordinary stories, their ordinary lives, get woven in to what God is wants to do for the whole world.

What a perfect message for All Saints Day. As I have mentioned a few times before, in the Reformed Christian tradition, the Saints aren’t just the extraordinary, seemingly perfect people who do miraculous things. We have this idea, inside and outside the church, that real greatness lies in perfection, in heroism, and in fame. But the Saints are all those ordinary, imperfect people who have been drawn in to God’s story. The great Catholic writer and founder of L’Arche once said that, “We are not called by God to do extraordinary things, but to do ordinary things with extraordinary love. ” Saints are people whose ordinary lives are driven by, fueled by extraordinary love. Ordinary people like Ruth and Naomi. Ordinary people like you. And like me. Bound together with simple, ordinary words like “where you go, I will go; Your people shall be my people. Your God shall be my God.”

So brothers and sisters in Christ. All remember that you are Saints. Remember that you have been drawn together with countless people through space and time, past, present, and future, by Christ, into God’s story of redemption for the whole world.

You are saints. That, like Naomi, you can discover God’s powerful presence when we experience deep lost and our times of deepest need. Like Ruth, you can also discover yourself as part of a story greater than yourself.

You are saints. That like Christ, it’s possible for you to be forgiven and to forgive those who sin against you. Like Christ, it’s possible to extend kindness and generosity to the weak, the broke, the reviled, and those who seem least deserving of our kindness and our generosity.

You are saints. And your ordinary bodies may become extraordinary as part of the body of Christ.  Even your ordinary, everyday, imperfect lives can be used for God’s perfect, extraordinary purposes.

You are saints. Like Naomi and Ruth, your ordinary life may be filled with, and driven by God’s extraordinary love. And where they have gone before us, we are called to go. Those people are our people. And their God is our God.

Thanks be to God. Amen.