Ruth the In-Law

Wednesday, November 29, 2023
Pastor Jason Bryan-Wegner

Ruth 4:11-17

As Deacon Stephanie said earlier, we’re spending some time in these midweek services looking at the surprising people God chose to be part of the family who brought Jesus into the world. We sometimes think of the characters in the Bible being too holy or too different than us, but when we look closer at the details in their lives, in their hopes, their challenges, their disappointments, and the faith – it’s not too much of a stretch to see that God has knit our lives together with theirs, and that the ways God worked through them continues to work through us today.

Now, whether it’s our reality or not, we are kind of conditioned to think of family as the “nuclear family” – two parents, kids and a dog, or something like that. But what if I told you that is a social construct of only the last 70 years, and is by no means the Biblical standard for families? It really wasn’t until the 1950s that the nuclear family became the “standard” as suburbs were growing all over the country.  For centuries families have looked a lot more like concentric circles of related and unrelated folks who care for each other to survive and thrive. The reality is families come in all kinds of shapes, sizes, and configurations, and always have. We’ve just sometimes put constraints and limitations on what family “should” look like.

Whatever shape or size, we know families matter. Who we come from has a significant impact on how we experience the world, what we imagine ourselves doing with our lives, and sometimes even who we associate with or not.

Families are often weird, and complicated, and full of all kinds of characters, because all of us in some way or another are weird, complicated, and have our unique characteristics. That’s what makes family relationships interesting – and sometimes messy and challenging.

Of all the messy and challenging relationships in families, it’s often the relationship between in-laws that gets the worst wrap. There are endless harsh jokes and countless advice columns dedicated to how to navigate the prickly relationships between in-laws.

Let me take an informal poll, of all the people you wrote on the cards of who you are bringing into worship with you tonight – how many of you brought an in-law in with you? Probably not many…

But in-laws are sometimes the first family-of-choice we encounter. It might not be our choice, but we can choose how we receive those who come into our lives through marriage. Ruth and Naomi were ancestors of Jesus. Ruth was married to Naomi’s son. Tragically, both Naomi and Ruth’s husbands died. They came from different countries and cultures and religions. They were bound by marriage and by grief. By the standard of their day, Ruth was entitled to return to her family and find a new husband and leave Naomi to fend for herself. But she chose to stay with her mother-in-law. Ruth chose to leave her homeland and culture and make a new life with Naomi’s extended family in Bethlehem. Naomi chose to accept Ruth as a companion on her way back home, and chose to seek a future for both of them there. But with just the two of them, as widows, there was not much of a future for either of them without a broader village of support.

Our reading tells of how Ruth marries Naomi’s distant relative, Boaz. They have a child – this was the clearest sign of a future with hope people could have in the Bible. This child, Obed, would be the grandfather of King David, Israel’s most beloved king. Here is where the story of Ruth leaves us, not just with a future secured, but with the seeds of hope for the whole world – with the promise of God’s faithful love overflowing not just into the ordinary, everyday lives of a mother and daughter-in-law, and a farmer, but into the lives of all Israel. And through the David’s ancestor, Jesus – Emmanuel, for whom we wait and long for, and who calls us into and unites as God’s messy, lovely, complicated, and faithful chosen family, even today.  Amen.

Past Sermons