Belonging Begins with . . . Showing Up for Each Other

Sunday, September 17, 2023
Deacon Stephanie Anderson

Ruth 1:1-18

Grace and peace to you from our God, to whom we are beloved and to whom we belong, Amen.

I feel so grateful and honored that I get to invite us into the story of Ruth this morning. Ruth, one of a handful of women who gets named in scripture; one of two women with a book of the Bible named after them; a great great great great grandmother of Jesus; and a surprise in God’s family of faith and a testament to the power of companionship. Her story has so much to teach us about what it means to belong to one another.

But before we dive into this text, I want to tell you a story of an encounter I had at a church I worked at in Chicago. I was a seminary student, tasked with a part-time internship at a church named St. Luke’s Lutheran Church of Logan Square. We met every Wednesday evening for community dinner, much like the Thursday night meal we offer here at Augustana, but at this church, we served the food inside and people were encouraged to eat family-style around round tables. I remember one late-fall evening, sitting next to a woman with whom I shared only a little bit of spoken language. I don’t speak Spanish very well – I have truly just a little – and her English was much better than my Spanish, but we were limited in how much we could share. We tried, nonetheless, and I got a sense for her family and her homeland of Mexico. I learned that she had hit hard times and was living on the street and was concerned about the coming cold winter. We talked about our favorite foods and managed a basic connection over dinner. At the end of the meal, she took out a pen and paper and she wrote down for me all of the places where she had heard I could find a meal. On Mondays, there ewas lunch at the Catholic church across town. On Tuesdays, I could access a food pantry not too far from there. Wednesdays, St. Luke’s feed this hot dinner. Thursdays, I could find a meal at another church, around the corner. She went through the whole week and she wanted to make sure I was fed; she didn’t assume that I knew where my next meal came from and that maybe I needed some sustenance, too.

Today’s passage from Ruth introduces us to two women through whom God will tear down some long-held and carefully crafted walls. Two women who will courageously go against the social norms of their day and reimagine God’s family of faith.

Our story is notably placed against the backdrop of the political reality of the day. Ezra and Nehemiah, in restoring Jerusalem, are on a mission to ethnically cleanse the faith. They want one type of person to be in their fold and were thus quite literally calling for an expulsion of foreign wives and children, with the strong implication that their society was being polluted by these unwelcome aliens.

And so against that backdrop, our story begins with displacement. Naomi and her husband Elimelech are forced to immigrate from Bethlehem to Moab, due to famine. In simply trying to live, they need to uproot their lives and cross into another land. And not just any land; Moab of all places! Moab is known in our ancient texts as a place that you’d never want to be as an Israelite; last place you’d want to go or raise your family. The Moabites aren’t just unliked; they are considered the enemy of Israel. And yet, Naomi and Elimelech must go if they are to survive. They’ve heard there is food there.

They find enough of life there in Moab that they settle for a while. They are there long enough that their sons marry Moab women. And then, just as they’ve made their home, tragedy strikes and all three of the men die (the father, Elimelech and the two sons). We’re left with a family of three widows, who are completely devastated. They’ve experienced what so many first-generation forced migrants encounter in times of fleeing – suffering, loss, and hardship in their new context, even when they had made the difficult decision to escape those things in their homeland.

Naomi knows that she probably has to go back to Bethlehem; she has heard that God has blessed them with food and there isn’t a future for her in Moab as a single woman, not in the ancient world. She feels utterly alone and she turns her attention back toward her homeland without an ounce of optimism or nostalgia. She’s broken and afraid and she’s sure that God has abandoned her. She urges her daughters-in-law to stay back in their own homeland of Moab, assuming it would be easier for them to create a new life.

The three women weep together, each having lost their husband, unsure about what the future will bring. The first daughter-in-law, Orpah, obeys Naomi and decides to stay in Moab. But Ruth, as the text says, clings to her.

Then Ruth – the Moabite widow, the enemy of Israel – makes one of the most treasured and profound testimonies of faith. She says to Naomi,

“Where you go, I will go;

where you lodge, I will lodge;

your people shall be my people

and your God my God.

Where you die, I will die,

and there will I be buried.

May the Lord do thus to me,

and more as well,

if even death parts me from you!”

Ruth decides to go with Naomi, even though she knows she’s signing up for a life as an outsider back in Bethlehem. As a Moabite woman (and a widow, at that), she can be certain that her life outside of their relationship will be hard.

We hear her say, “where you lodge, I will lodge”, but in Hebrew word for lodge used here also means to “murmur or complain”. It’s used in other places for the Israelites as the lodge or withstand the wilderness. Ruth understands that this promise of lodging with Naomi will be a place of discomfort, laden with complaints and that the people will murmur about her. Her life will be one of questioning; of slurs aimed in her direction; of new food and clothing and customs; of “hmm, that’s not how we do it here.”

And yet, she insists. She refuses to let the external world prevent her from maintaining her love and life alongside her Hebrew mother-in-law.

This story is so rich and interesting because, if you noticed, God isn’t a main character in the story at all. This is a journey through the human experience of tragedy and companionship and decision-making. In fact, the first time God shows up in this story is in Ruth’s statement of loyalty: she converts her life to God, she says “your God will be my God” and then she asks God to be with her. The outsider becomes the faithful one; she makes and lives her commitment to God and God’s people.


This – the fact that God shows up first in her declaration of loyalty – is a theological statement in its own. God was with these women the whole time, but it’s in the showing up for one another; in the choosing one another; in the “clinging” to one another, where God is revealed.

God was revealed when Ruth said, “You are mine and I am yours.” God is revealed when we cross division to seek each other’s humanity. God was revealed at that dinner table in Chicago that evening, as my dinner companion held my shoulder and walked me through each place of refuge where I could eat in the coming days; we belonged to each other. She prayed for me and she bundled herself up and headed out into the night of the city, having shown me what God’s love and loyalty look like in unlikely encounters.

When we show up for one another – in the mundane and in in the brave, boundary crossing – we glimpse God’s face. Ruth showed us how to do what Jesus will someday ask his disciples to do: to “cling” to him by letting go of all that “clings” to them, including their assumptions about who is in and who is out. In Jesus, you are “in”. We are all “in”. There is nothing that you can do to separate yourself from the love of God. No mistake, no identity, no homeland, no regret, no decision. Because God clings to us – God chooses us – and the family of faith, to which we belong, goes beyond anything we can imagine. Thanks be to God.

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