Pentecost 21c

Preached: October 21, 2007

A Different Kind of Love Story
Ruth 1:1-19

Grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, who pours out the Holy Spirit on us through his Word and Sacraments. That word today is from Ruth 1

Dear friends in Christ, fellow saints of God:

At first blush Ruth might appear to be a candidate for a dramatic love story. A young woman widowed, heading for a strange country. Will she find love to replace her lose? But after a closer look, Hollywood would change a lot to market the story. You see, we're not told of passionate romances or love triangles or sexual trysts. In fact, the words from Ruth most often quoted and used on wedding days weren't at all a romantic declaration of love between a bride and her groom, but the loyal love of a daughter-in-law to her mother-in-law. “Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God” (Ruth 1:16 NIV). This is a different kind of love story.

As we consider this account, we realize that Ruth's romantic feelings aren't mentioned at all. It's a different kind of love story. In fact, through the eyes of faith, we begin to see that there is a deeper, greater love behind Ruth -- the Lord's love. Yes, that is why this is a different kind of love story. It's built on the foundation of the Lord's faithful love.

What's more, although a romantic love story may be entertaining, it's usually not helpful. Some such stories can even lead to false expectations, inverted priorities, or dangerous temptations. Yet what happens in Ruth brings home for you and me the faithful love of the Lord our God. That goes beyond merely helpful. That's a life-changing truth, a truth the gives you strength day by day. For the same faithful love the Lord showed to Ruth, he shows to you. This is a different kind of love story, a love story built on the Lord's love. Let's learn about that love.

A. The Lord's love reaches out

1. Why was it unexpected that the Lord's love would reach out to work faith in Ruth?

These events take place during the time of the judges, before there were kings in Israel. So we see this is a real life story. These events actually did happen. It's not a dramatic recreation or a morality tale. Rather we see the Lord's love working among real people at a definite, real time in history.

The time of the judges was often a difficult time. The people of Israel wandered away from the Lord. He would send an enemy to trouble them. The people would turn back to the Lord. And he would raise up a leader to rescue them. Although there is no mention of most of these leaders holding court or judging cases of law, traditionally they have been called judges. Today we would probably call most of them military leaders. They included men like Gideon, Jephthah, and Samson.

During those days a famine hit the land around Bethlehem. Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, along with their two sons, Mahlon and Kilion, moved from Bethlehem to the country of Moab until things would be better back home. During this time Ruth enters the story. She marries one of the sons.

Now even thought the Moabites were descended from Abraham's nephew Lot, they did not worship the true God. They worshiped Chemosh. Yet Ruth learns of the Lord, the God of Israel. She learned that the Lord, who had made his promises to Abraham, kept those promises. He had brought the people of Israel out from slavery in Egypt and brought them safely to the land of Canaan, the land he had promised to Abraham and his seed. Would he not also keep his promise to send the Savior through Abraham's family, who would be a blessing for all peoples? For he is the Lord, the faithful God, the unchanging I AM, who keeps his promises.

Not only are Ruth's words to Naomi a confession of her loyal love toward her mother-in-law, but they are also a confession of her faith in the Lord. “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” (Ruth 1:16, 17). She was leaving her home and her gods behind, not even wanting to be buried back in her homeland. She was following the Lord, the God of Israel, Naomi's God. She makes this promise in his name. “May the Lord deal with me,” she says.

2. How has the Lord's love reached out for you?

What a wonder of the Lord's love this faith is! He works faith even in the heart of this foreigner. For you see, the Lord's love reaches out. That's the first point in this different kind of love story. The Lord's love reaches out. He reached out for Ruth, even though she was a foreigner, a Moabitess.

That same love that reached out to call Ruth to faith has reached out for you. For by birth you and I are foreigners and aliens to God. Our sin cuts us off from the holy God. We were sinful flesh born from sinful flesh. But the Lord, in his tender mercy and boundless grace reached out to the sinful trash that we were. What a different kind of love! In Baptism he reached out for you. He gave you rebirth into his family. No longer foreigners and aliens, but now you are sons and daughters through faith in Christ Jesus. All this due only to the Lord's faithful love. He showed that love by working faith in Ruth's heart even though she was from Moab. He showed you that same love by working faith in you. What a different kind of love, a love that reaches out even to sinners like us!

Imitate that love by reaching out to those who a different than you. Reach out to them wanting them to know the true God, your God, the only Savior-God. Reach out to them with your witness, your prayers, your offerings. Reach out in love, the same kind of love that the Lord showed to you to call you to faith.

B. The Lord's love works good

1) What troubles did Naomi and Ruth face?

Yet that faith, which the Lord had worked in Ruth, was put to the test. Naomi's faith as well was tested. Try to imagine yourself in their place. Remember in this time of history, women were almost entirely dependent on men, first their fathers, then their husbands, and after that their sons. The right to work or to inherit and own property was severely limited to women.

So consider the trouble Naomi went through. She had to leave her home land because of a famine and went to a strange land with her husband and two sons. Her husband dies. What a lose! But some years later, her two sons die as well. Now where is her help and support going to come from. And what about the two widows her sons have left? She can't even support herself. How could she help them? Yet her heart is attached them. They are her only family left.

So when she hears that the Lord had come to the help of his people and there was food in Bethlehem, she knows it's best to return home. She wishes the Lord's blessing on her two daughters-in-law. “May the Lord show kindness to you, as you have shown to your dead and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband” (Ruth 1:9 NIV). Yes, that was the best earthly hope for these young ladies. If they returned to their mother's house, they may well find another man to marry them and care for them. But if they went to Israel, who there would marry a foreigner widow? She could not provide them with a husband. But Ruth, as you know, insists on staying with her.

Now through these great troubles, the Lord works out good for both Naomi and Ruth. Read the book of Ruth, it's only four chapters, to see the good God blesses them with. Yes Naomi who felt empty and afflicted on returning to Bethlehem, rejoices in gladness by the time the book ends. For you see, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28 NIV). What a different kind of love that works good out of evil!

2) Why can you be sure the Lord's love works good out of the troubles you face?

The same Lord that worked good out of the evil that befell Naomi and Ruth, the same Lord is working for you. Like Naomi we still go through times of sadness, even bitterness. We feel afflicted, weighed down by life's problems. Being a Christian doesn't mean were free of those feelings or free from troubles. Yet your Christian faith looks beyond the present feelings and troubles. Your faith sees God's promises and holds on to them. His love is working for you. His love will not fail. Even though we fail, his love does not fail.

Your faith has an even clear picture to focus on to know God's great love that does not fail. You have the image of God, Jesus Christ. You have his sacrifice his cross. “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all -- how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” (Romans 8:32 NIV). You have the Lord's Supper, which brings that sacrifice on the cross to you to eat and to drink. God loves you. He works out all for the good of you whom he has called. What a different kind of love! God works good for you, despite the suffering we feel.

C. The Lord's love ignites love in us

1) Describe the love that the Lord's love creates in us.

And finally, how can we not fail to see the effects of the Lord's love in the life of Naomi and Ruth. His love ignited love in their hearts. Naomi's love wanted to do what was best for Orpah and Ruth, even if that meant that she would be all alone. We see that love in Ruth as she willingly leaves all behind to stay with Naomi and help her in whatever way possible. In what follows in the book, you see her love in action. But you can read about that when you read it at home.

Such selfless love has deep affection for others and does what is best for them. This love in Naomi and Ruth burned with the fire of the love that the Lord had shown them, calling them to faith and working out good for them.

And so also as the Lord's love burns for you and fills you, it shine out with its heat and light as you love others. At times we struggle since some people we find so hard to love. Our love can be cold. Yet the message of Jesus and his love that died for you, ignites our hearts. Over time as you and I take in the fullness of Jesus' love, we burn hotter in true affection towards others.

Yet love is much more than just a feeling. Love is action. Here we struggle as well, don't we? Self-interest, laziness, personal leisure and the like dampen the fire of love, weakening our will to do what is truly best for others. But the Jesus who died for you rose from the dead to ignite you with the power to love others, just as he has loved you -- to love them not only in words but in deeds and actions. This is a very different kind of love!

So maybe it's good if Hollywood doesn't touch the story of Ruth. The secular mind could never understand the real love behind it all. But as you read it at home this week, see the Lord's love shining through. His love reached out for you. His for works good for you. His love ignites your love. That's what his love did for Ruth and Naomi. That's what his love does for you, his blood-bought people.

Pastor Gregg Bitter

St. John's Evangelical Lutheran Church
859 5th Street
Hancock, MN 56244
(320) 392-5313