Timothy C. Ahrens
The First Congregational Church
United Church of Christ
May 14, 2000
Ruth 1:15-18; John 10:11-18; and
Revelation 12: 1-8, 13-16
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of each one of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our rock and our salvation. Amen.
Today is Mother's Day and our biblical story focuses on Ruth, a woman who does not give birth until the closing verses of the book named for her. How strange. Today we celebrate the "Festival of the Christian Home" and our image of home begins with two widowed women of faith who are homeless - sojourners in a foreign land. How odd, you say. But today in the Book of Ruth, we learn more about the values of motherhood and the real ties which bind families together than in most texts of scripture written on women of the Bible. Of the 189 women named in the Bible (and the scores of those who are simply referred to as "wife of," "mother of," "daughters of," or as in Ezekiel 13:18 - "women who sew pillows to armholes"), I believe it is Ruth and Naomi's relationship which teach us what loyalty, love, and commitment in the face of adversity are all about.
The Book of Ruth opens with Naomi and Elimelech, moving to Moab with their sons Mahlon and Kilion. They have moved from Bethlehem in Judah in the midst of a famine to find food and work. While there, Mahlon marries Orpah, and Kilion marries Ruth - both Moabite women. Elimelech, Mahlon, and Kilion die. As you know, the status of a woman in ancient Israel changed overnight when their husbands died. On their own, women had no rights and no stable means of survival. Widows were often blamed for their own state, considered a disgrace, treated harshly and sometimes enslaved. The phrase - widows and orphans actually mean women and children without men and appears throughout scriptures as the paradigmatic example of victimization and powerlessness. Under the Hebrew law of levirate marriage, a childless widow becomes the wife of her late husband's brother with the intent that she would bear a son in her dead husband's name.
Knowing that Orpah and Ruth have no future in Judah (especially with no brother's left to marry!), Naomi encourages them to return to their families in Moab. But Ruth was rare in her devotion to her mother-in-law. In the poignant declaration we have heard today, she says, "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).
And so the young and compassionate Ruth and the old and wise Naomi begin an arduous journey to Judah. Tackling mountains and valleys, crossing rivers and deserts they clung to each other and slowly made their way back to Bethlehem. When they enter the village Ruth 1:19 says, "the whole town was stirred because of them." There Ruth meets and eventually marries Boaz and together they give birth to Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of King David. And so it is that Boaz, a descendant of Rahab, a prostitute from Jericho and Ruth a widowed foreigner end up birthing a son whose offspring eventually fathers the ancestral line through which our Messiah came into the world. Imagine that! God has a plan. God is in control!
We learn from Ruth and Naomi that our adversities become God's universities! Because we are too often hard headed, we might not get it. But, God is working out our salvation in the face of our aggravation. Loyalty and love become our guiding principles in face of adversity and suffering. The question is, how will we respond?
In the Book of Revelation (12:1-8, 13-16), we encounter the last woman in the scriptures. She has no name. She is described as "a woman clothed with the sun." She is upheld by the moon, crowned with the stars - swathed by the power of Creator and creation. Giving birth in the face of a dragon's assault, this woman delivers the child who will rule the nations. The angels of God snatch away the child immediately after birth and carry him into the arms of God. The woman flees - first into the wilderness - and then when the dragon pursues her there, God gives her the two wings of the great eagle and she takes to flight, flying to the place where she is safe from her attacker. It is there, in the safe shelter of God, that God ultimately delivers her.
A woman clothed with the sun, upheld by the moon, crowned with the stars - . . . What a powerful image for us to carry forth this day. The dragon of war and hunger, of violence and poverty is lurking nearby. He is the enemy of justice and compassion and community, the destroyer of peace. The monster lurks, threatening to devour the creativity, life force, and hope in our times. But the monsters do not win. The monsters cannot win. In the end, the dragon loses, while the woman clothed with the sun soars into the flight of glorious freedom on the wings of eagles! The creativity, compassion, and love of God cannot be stopped. The spirit of woman cannot be subdued. Even in the most trying times and in the desolate places, God nurtures and provides food and flight!
The woman clothed with the sun, upheld by the moon, and crowned with the stars is a woman of power. If she were not, the dragon would not have pursued her. But he persists. Her creative and vibrant power is a threat to all that he stands for. But she trusts in the light and love of God which sustains her. She is saved by the power of God. God bears her up on the wings of eagles. So a dance that God began with Eve, and continued with Ruth and Naomi, continues through all time and until the end of time.
Each of us is called to walk with Ruth and Naomi on their journey of loyalty and love in the face of adversity. Each of us is called to soar with the woman clothed with the sun bearing the glory and honor of God in the face of the dragons of our time. For the glory and honor of God are clothed with the sun and will overcome the enemies of justice, compassion, and community. Amen.
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