What do Ruth 1 and John 6 have in common? Turns out, quite a bit! Bread, friendship, God's never-ending promises... read on!
I will go where you go
Ruth 1, John 6
August 25, 2012
My family is in worship this morning and because they're here, I have to tell you that one of my favorite things is how our family, if we see a rainbow, pulls over and stops the car to get a better look. I mean, when something like that happens, when there's an opportunity to wonder at God's promises, how can we not pause and take it in
The story of Ruth and Naomi is also one of my favorites. It's a story that in Jewish ears had to sound especially predictable. After all, God is all about turning things that are upside-down, right-side up… so Bethlehem (the place of bread) is suddenly without bread. There's a drought. The breadbasket is empty. So they leave home for Moab and stay in that foreign land for quite a while. They stay long enough for Naomi's sons, whose names mean "sickly" and "weak" to grow up, marry and die, as you'd expect with names like those . But what seems totally unexpected is the way that Ruth won't leave Naomi; she is not "one- of-us," she's a daughter-in-law, a foreigner … but she won't leave. She won't leave Naomi even when this woman decides to change her name from "sweet" to "bitter." She won't leave when Naomi tells her it'd really be better for both of them if she'd just go. Even when Naomi gives her the silent treatment in response to her promise of fidelity, Ruth persists in following after Naomi with love, faithfulness and devotion.
In fact, Ruth goes even a step further than love. Ruth actually puts a curse on herself if she doesn't honor her own promise to stick with Naomi through whatever comes next. In a way, you could say Naomi didn't have a choice so she headed back home to Bethlehem, with Ruth's clinging presence, just in time for the harvest. That's where our reading ends today… but I encourage you to go home and read the whole story. It's just four chapters long and full of great bits--romance, intrigue.
Here's a spoiler alert! As the story of Ruth goes on, in four short chapters, we get to see how this relationship, forged in grief and uncertainty, brings a blessing not only for both women but for generations after. Ruth finds food, meets Boaz, takes Naomi's advice, and makes risky advances toward Boaz. Luckily, Boaz is more than happy to marry Ruth. They have a son, Obed, who continues Naomi's line, securing her future. All the women in the community say, "Wow! This Ruth is worth more than seven sons." And that is quite a commendation.
So, promising Naomi means two women go from starving wanderers back to the breadbasket--Bethlehem--and there, they find all their needs fulfilled abundantly. Ruth, the strange promise-making daughter-in-law from Moab, becomes in the Biblical story not only a named ancestor of King David but one of those few women named in the New Testament as an ancestor of Jesus. Ruth is someone, the Biblical story tries to show us, who makes more clear who God is--God is One who clings to us, who makes the promise not to leave us, who will through her presence provide all we need to live, who gives a future worth living for even after death.
Those are quite the promises. That is a new level of deep friendship. And Ruth's story gives a promise-making lens to interpret the deep friendship that Jesus shares with disciples--as he tries to help them understand how he is the bread they need for life.
For weeks, we've heard Jesus saying "I'm the bread of life," but this week, it gets kind of gory. Jesus starts talking about how people need to chomp on his flesh and drink his blood--and frankly, that's pretty disgusting. People leave Jesus in droves at this point. And do we exactly get it either? We're not cannibals after all. This communion we share--body and blood, bread and wine--is really Christ but not exactly that way, right? So, why does Jesus go this far to try to make it real? Why does Jesus have to make it gross to help us get it? After all, what Jesus is about is much more than eating bread, right?
Yes. And no. It seems like Jesus wants to be sure that we don't lift him up on such a pedestal that we start to think he was just a figment of our imagination. I think Jesus wanted to keep it real so that we remember Jesus was and is accessible. It's not, "I am caviar, given for you." Jesus isn't just for the elite. Jesus offers himself as something accessible, ordinary, something we can all reach out and touch. A promise we can chew on.
It seems like Jesus wants to make sure that we get that he was really earthy--flesh and blood. Why? Well, because we are. Jesus says in another place in scripture something like this, "You think I'm amazing? Well, you will do greater things than these!" Don't believe it? Well, it's a promise. We are not off the hook because we think we are so much more insignificant than Christ. We don't have to be the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. or Mother Theresa in order to be "little Christs," in order to be bread, to care for the poor and vulnerable, to make a difference in the world God loves and wants to heal. God wants to do that through us, mere human beings, real flesh and blood people with all our gifts and challenges.
It seems like Jesus wants us to hear the promise that when we share bread and wine in Holy Communion, Jesus is really here, like Ruth: clinging to us, never leaving us, providing all we need to live, giving a future worth living for, even in the face of death. Jesus gives his body so that we might become the body of Christ more fully for those who we'll go out to meet all through this week.
This past week, the community that I served for five years in Chicago lost a 27-year old man who drowned. In the face of that devastating loss, Jesus promises his family and friends lost in grief, who don't know where to turn, "I will not leave you." I am the bread that will sustain you hour-by-hour, day-by-day… as you work to put back together lives broken by sorrow.
Jesus is bread not only in days of abundant harvest, but in days of drought. Jesus is bread not only in times of prosperity but in harsh economic times. Jesus is bread not only in joyful times but in times of unspeakable pain and loss. Like our kids, in times when both storm clouds and rays of sun seem to be charging up against one another at an astounding rate, we have the opportunity to look up in the sky at the multi-colored bow and gasp, "There's the sign of God's promises” … and know those promises are not fiction.
Jesus promises, "I will never leave you." In all of life's circumstances, Jesus clings to us, saying “I will go where you go.” Following in the faithful footsteps of his ancestor Ruth, Jesus promises, "I will never leave you."