Sunday, September 25, 2011
They thought about killing him, but one of the older brothers, “the reasonable one”, being reasonable, convinced the others, just to sell him into slavery to some traveling traders that came by. They told their parents he was killed by wild animals. Joseph went to Egypt and being an enterprising young man, who convinced the Pharaoh he could divine the meaning of dreams, made himself indispensible to the Pharaoh. A famine hit the land, a famine Joseph had predicted, and he put himself in charge of stocking up provisions so the people would not die, and passing out food to the people.
Joseph’s brothers traveled from their far away home. Long story short, they asked their brother for food, not knowing he was their brother. They didn’t initially recognize him, but he recognized them, and after playing with them a little, he revealed himself to them. When they realized he was their brother, they figured he would hold a grudge and let them starve to death.
But he did not. He had a kind place in his heart for his parents, and his baby brother, and he forgave his older brothers with these words: You planned evil against me but God used those same plans for my good, as you see all around you right now—life for many people. Easy now, you have nothing to fear. I'll take care of you and your children.”
You planned evil, but God used those plans for good, easy now, you have nothing to fear, I’ll take care of you. These are words to live by, by my friends. These are words that say simply: “I forgive you.” No matter what horrible, evil thing you have done to me, I have a choice. I can live my life being eaten up by hatred, caused by your evil actions, OR I can put my trust in God. I can leave you to God, and let my live be filled with love and forgiveness for you, and get on with my life, and that is what I choose. You see if we want healthy relationships we choose forgiveness. Now, this does not mean we allow ourselves to stay in relationships with people that walk all over us. But it does mean, that we do not allow ourselves to wallow in our anger. We move on. And we ask God to so fill us with love, that there is no room left for hatred and anger.
Because you see when people are truly evil, and they hurt us, it is really their problem. Something is wrong with them. They are hurting, and broken. Usually their actions are based in wrong thinking or ignorance, because they have been hurt themselves. They are to be pitied. But it is not our place to judge. We leave them to God.
Let me use this story, from history, as an example. Back in 1963, in Birmingham, Alabama, four white men, were enraged, because the world was changing around them. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his colleagues were using Birmingham as a major base of operations for the movement to end racial segregation. The integration of the schools had just begun. Birmingham had earned the name “Bombingham” because of the activity of the Ku Klux Klan there. Governor George Wallace was doing everything he could to block the integration of the schools. He told the “New York Times that a “few first-class funerals” would stop integration in his state, and the Klan apparently agreed with the governor.” (http://www.newsinhistory.com/blog/% E2%80%98oh-god- they-bombed-our-church%E2%80%99)
So on September 15, 1963, four Klan members placed a box of dynamite under the church steps of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church steps. That day, twenty-six children were attending Sunday school class in the basement at the church, centered on the day’s sermon: “The Love That Forgives.” Isn’t that ironic When the bomb exploded, four girls were killed: Addie Mae Collins, Carole Robertson and Cynthia Wesley, all 14, and Denise McNair, 11. It was the deadliest single act of terror of the civil rights movement. Two other young men lost their lives that day in related acts of violence to bring the total loss of lives to 6.
A news report from the day says that as soon as they started carrying the bodies of the girls out of the wreckage, predictably there was chaos, and people were angry, they started shouting words of hate. The Rev. Charles Billips and the church pastor, the Rev. John Cross, got on police megaphones. Cross began the Lord’s prayer: “Our Father, Who art in heaven…” “Go home and pray for the men who did this evil deed,” said Billips. “We must have love in our hearts for these men.” (http://www.newsinhistory.com/blog/%E2% 80%98oh-god-they-bombed-our-church%E2%80%99). Can you imagine having the peace of mind to say that?
Dr. King came right away from Atlanta. He urged the federal government to intervene to protect the people of Birmingham from further violence and as always, he called upon the people in his movement to work for justice using non-violent means. King was a follower of Jesus with deep convictions that we must work for justice, and do so with love in our hearts, even for those who hurt us. He was adamant that we must never use violence.
He preached at the funeral for three of the little girls, (one had a separate funeral service). In his eulogy, Dr. King was clear, as always, that followers of Jesus must take the higher ground in the face of hatred. He knew that it was only a matter of time before the laws of our nation would change, the schools would be integrated, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 would be passed. Of course, we still have a long way to go in dealing with systems of racism and oppression, but we gained some essential legal victories during those days, and the hearts and minds of many American people turned during that time.
But it was a hard fight, some of you remember it more clearly than the rest of us. And it took leaders and followers with a strong moral compass. And it took compassion and forgiveness. You see, in an argument, there ARE sometimes people who are right and people who are wrong. Sometimes we fight over things that are a matter of opinion, like whether or not a movie was good, right? Nobody is right or wrong. But some things really are evil, without question.
But it takes time for a group of people, a community, or a nation, to come upon an agreement over that. And still there will always be some who disagree. And so Dr. King and others like him had to step forward, 50 years ago, had to be the leaders who will say: “we must stand by our principles and fight for justice, but we must not be swallowed up by our anger.”
We are followers of Jesus. We are people of love. And people of love find the strength to forgive. We understand that our enemies are ignorant. They are wrong, but they will come to see that they are wrong, one by one, family by family, as we pass laws, as we change hearts and minds, and as we take the higher ground, they will see the error of their ways, they will see the error of their ways.
At the funeral for those little girls Dr. King said this: “They did not die in vain. God still has a way of wringing good out of evil. . . . “The spilled blood of these innocent girls may cause the whole citizenry of Birmingham to transform the negative extremes of a dark past into the positive extremes of a bright future. Indeed this tragic event may cause the white South to come to terms with its conscience. . . .“In spite of the darkness of this hour, we must not despair. We must not become bitter, nor must we harbor the desire to retaliate with violence. No, we must not lose faith in our white brothers. Somehow we must believe that the most misguided among them can learn to respect the dignity and the worth of all human personality.” (http://www.english.illinois.edu/maps/poets/m_r/randall/ birmingham.htm)
If you had been a black person living in the South back in September 1963, would you have been able to forgive, and keep working peacefully for justice? I won’t ask you to put yourself in the shoes of the family of those four little girls; that would be too hard. Just imagine that you lived in Birmingham. Could you be like Jesus and have enough love in your heart, to have pity on those bigoted, Ku Klux Klan members, who really did not know any better? Could you forgive them? It’s hard; I know. But having hate in our hearts does not help anyone. Those men were criminals and they deserved to go to prison, but they were also caught up in a system that was way bigger than them. And loving Christian people understand that God can take a horrible, tragic, evil situation, and use it for good.
That awful, awful tragedy in Birmingham was a turning point. It was a day that shocked the world. It uncovered the ugliness of racism, and segregation, and the remnants of slavery that we thought we had overcome with the Civil War but, my friends those remnants were still with us in 1963, and they are still with us today. And no one believes it was a good thing that those little girls died, but we can be bold to forgive the men who set that bomb because it is the way of Jesus to forgive.
This week, a billboard went up, actually 9 of them, by a local mega church, that says: “Being gay is NOT a gift from God, Forgiveness, Love and Eternal Life are.” A mega church put these up in response to one billboard put up by our sister church, Central United Methodist Church, that said, “we believe being gay is a gift from God.” They were trying to make the point people are created gay and that creation is a gift and so whether we are created gay or straight it’s all part of God’s good creation. Creation is a blessing from God.
The pastor of the mega church thinks this message is not the truth so his church put up the other billboard. He wrote on his blog that he has never met gay person who could look him in the eye and say they were happy to be gay. So now the debate is going on the internet, the TV news, etc. A bunch of folks planned to get dressed up in their Sunday best clothes and go hold up signs near the entrance of the mega church today that said: “I’m gay and happy to be gay!” They wanted him to know they are happy and healthy and Christian and Gay.
Now it would be easy for us to get angry. It would be easy for that protest today to have gotten ugly. That was not the plan, and so I pray that did not happen. But there was a time in this world, when well-intentioned Christian people were on the wrong side of the argument of whether or not black people are of the same value to God as white people. Well intentioned people were on the wrong side of that argument.
Today, some people think that gay people are going to Hell, unless they change their ways. I am sad for those people, because they are misguided and ignorant. The world is changing around them. They grew up in another time and now they must adjust. We used to think gay folks were deviant. And now we know you are beloved children of God just like the rest of us. We know that to be true, I know that to be true.
And by the way the bigots are beloved children of God too. So as followers of Jesus, we are called to forgive them, and love them, and to pray that one day, they will get this one right. Not to just be eaten up by hate. We can pray to God for them to be changed, to be on the right side of this, or to judge them.
Joseph said to his brothers: You threw me into a well. You meant it for evil. But now my people are starving and I am in a position to feed all of you. You meant it for evil, but the joke’s on you. God has turned your evil into good. I forgive you.
May God fill us with love, so that we are bold to forgive, so there is no more room to hate, and so that they can be in a position to love some day too. Amen.
Sunday, September 18, 2011
Ever have a sibling? Raise a set of siblings? Get into a competition with child your own age? If not, feel free to fall asleep this morning or skip this blog. When I was in the 9th grade, I was in competition with Jimmy Martinez over who would get to be Editor of the Jr. High newspaper. I wrote a great editorial , with meat and substance and edge. Jimmy wrote about graffiti and was trying to get in good with the teacher.
When he won, I held it against him all through Jr. High and High School. I avoided him like the plague, because I was holding a grudge. And in the process I deprived myself of the chance to be his friend. He never knew it.
A few years ago we became friends on Facebook. I figured I could get over it after these decades. Suddenly I discovered we care about all the same things. We had the same likes and dislikes. In fact, he has been a huge fan of the Village from far away in Abilene, Texas.
Thirty years later, I was invited as one of Jimmy’s circle of close friends, at a party at his house, on the weekend of our 30 year high school reunion, I made my confession. We had a big laugh about it. I was the one who had lost out. Of course Jimmy forgave me. He never knew I had been mad at him all those years.
I like Jimmy so much now. And now I look back and I wonder what did I miss in all those years that we could have been friends? I feel so silly now for all those wasted years. I feel ashamed of myself. How could I have been so petty?
You see I did not think there was enough Jr. High status to go around. Jimmy got the status of being the newspaper editor and I wanted that status and recognition. Never mind that I was still on the newspaper staff. There were plenty of other things for me to do in Jr. High. And it appears that I turned out ok. At the time, it was the most important thing in the world.
As a mature adult now, I really try to celebrate each individual person, and recognize that we all have different gifts and every gift is of value. We don’t all have to be the star! But back there in 9th grade I had a small view of things. And so I could not be happy for Jimmy when he got the job that I wanted for myself. I didn’t think there was enough recognition to go around. I wanted a piece of it, and Jimmy got my piece!
I think a sense of there “not being enough” is at the heart of so many problems in otherwise healthy relationships. We fight over stuff and power and status. But Jesus tells us over and over again, that those are not the things that will bring us joy. A friend who will be there for you when it’s not convenient and love that is tenacious when life gets ugly: that is what brings us joy. There is always enough love and compassion to go around, because God is love and God gives us the capacity to love. We just have to do it for each other.
But we are human beings. We don’t think there is enough love, and so we get caught in rivalry and competition about stuff and status. Has this ever cause you problems in your relationships? So we come to the story of Jacob & Esau. They were the twins of Isaac and Rebekah, here’s the way the Message tells it (Genesis 25:19-34 for those following along from afar):
21-23 Isaac prayed hard to God for his wife because she was barren. God answered his prayer and Rebekah became pregnant. But the children tumbled and kicked inside her so much that she said, "If this is the way it's going to be, why go on living?" She went to God to find out what was going on. God told her,
Two nations are in your womb,
two peoples butting heads while still in your body.
One people will overpower the other,
and the older will serve the younger.
24-26 When her time to give birth came, sure enough, there were twins in her womb. The first came out reddish, as if snugly wrapped in a hairy blanket; they named him Esau (Hairy). His brother followed, his fist clutched tight to Esau's heel; they named him Jacob (Heel). Isaac was sixty years old when they were born.
27-28 The boys grew up. Esau became an expert hunter, an outdoorsman. Jacob was a quiet man preferring life indoors among the tents. Isaac loved Esau because he loved his game, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
29-30 One day Jacob was cooking a stew. Esau came in from the field, starved. Esau said to Jacob, "Give me some of that red stew—I'm starved!" That's how he came to be called Edom (Red).
31 Jacob said, "Make me a trade: my stew for your rights as the firstborn."
32 Esau said, "I'm starving! What good is a birthright if I'm dead?"
33-34 Jacob said, "First, swear to me." And he did it. On oath Esau traded away his rights as the firstborn. Jacob gave him bread and the stew of lentils. He ate and drank, got up and left. That's how Esau shrugged off his rights as the firstborn.
Both brothers thought there was not enough to go around. Esau was really short sighted; he was hungry and could not think about anything but his next meal. How often do we make decisions for instant gratification? (But that’s another sermon for another day.).
Jacob was all about the power, at the expense of family. He was all about himself. He had no comprehension that somehow there was enough love and blessing to go around, so he was constantly tricking his brother out of what was rightfully his, as the firstborn.
Well, we didn’t read this part today, but there is another story where Jacob tricks Esau out of the father’s deathbed blessing, which was huge. Jacob finally has to flee the country because of all the terrible things he has done to his brother Esau. Many years later, after Jacob has married, and has children, and has herds of animals (which tell us that he has not fallen into financial ruin) he returns to his homeland. But he is scared. He is afraid that Esau is going to kill him after all the horrible things he has done. And honestly, who wouldn’t blame.
But guess what happens? Jacob has a sleepless night, wrestling with God as he reflects on what he has done with his life. But the next morning, Esau greets him with open arms. Jacob is ready to give half his possessions to Esau in the hopes that Esau will not kill him, and Esau says: “O brother, I have plenty of everything, keep what is yours for yourself.”
That dear Esau! The brother who was cheated out of everything by the conniving younger brother Jacob, could have been bitter, but instead, he welcomes his brother with open arms. He is the hero of the story. There is not a competitive bone is Esau’s body. “We have plenty,” says Esau. There is always enough love to go around, (and there are enough sheep, and goats too.)
Can you imagine walking up to someone that you have been rivals with for your whole life, and suddenly one day, all that rivalry is just gone, and you can relax, and just care about one another and be thankful for the blessing of each other?
That’s what it means to be in a mature, healthy relationship. It is hard. We can do this for one another: every one of us. We can’t control all the people out there, but we can be a model for them what it means to believe that there is enough love and compassion to go around.
Esau is our model for today. If Esau can do it, we can do it too. Jimmy Martinez taught me the lesson. I have been holding that silly grudge against him for more than 30 years, being mad at him for getting the Editor’s position when I think it should have been mine. It is what it is. Jimmy is a good person, and so am I. There could only be one editor. Jimmy got the job. I am the one who chose to be angry. Kurt said for awhile, “let go of it already. So he was the editor”.
But here is the thing, the anger just hurt me. It did not hurt Jimmy because he never even knew about it. And even if he had known, anger based in competition is just an ugly thing. We all have gifts. Why not just celebrate gifts in one another and be happy for another person? Wouldn’t that be something!
So, my friends, we have a choice in our relationships, and in our outlook on the world. We can choose to believe there is not enough to go around: not enough stuff, not enough status and recognition, and we can be resentful when someone else gets what we want.
Or we can chose to believe there is enough. That God give us enough. We can celebrate the victories and the gifts of others. And trust that there is also enough blessing for us too. Imagine trusting that there is enough blessings for us all.
So, what will you do? In response to this sermon I want to give you a chance to talk to someone about this, and to pray a simple prayer for one another if you will. This is going to take a little work, but find someone to talk to about this. Here’s what to do – Share a situation when you have felt competitive or jealous and it got in the way of a relationship, and when you are done share with each other. Then I want you to pray for each other, here’s a sample of what to say: God help (PERSON YOU ARE WITH’s NAME) let go of the need to compete and to know your love is enough. Amen.
Sunday, September 11, 2011
And I felt so powerful. Because here is the thing. I had the money for the down payment. I had the loan through my credit union. I wanted the car, but I did not have to buy it. I could walk away. Because I was not going to let him manipulate me into paying more than I wanted, just because HE told me it was a good deal.
I have never felt so powerful, because I did not let that salesman tell me what to pay, or when, to buy my car. It was MY choice. I did not let him have control over MY life. Because you see I was the one with the money. I had something HE wanted. He wanted to make the sale.
I owed him nothing. And so I walked away. I did not have to explain, justify or defend my choice to that guy. I ended up buying the car a few days later at another dealer and getting the deal I wanted, by the way. Now that is a story about an interaction with someone, a car salesman. I had next to nothing invested in that relationship. I’ll grant you that. So it was fairly easy to walk away.
Today we’re going to talk about relationships that are important to us: our partners, our parents and children, our close friends, our co-workers, and friends here at The Village. We’re talking about healthy relationships and today we want to just scratch the surface with the concept of good boundaries in healthy relationships.
Now I am not a psycho-therapist, nor a licensed counselor, so if you think you might need one of those, I’ll help you find one, I will be happy to help you with that. I believe in therapy. I have learned a great deal in therapy. But I am a pastor, who has had some conversations with folks who are struggling with relationships with people they care about, and so I have learned a few things. I have conversations with people every week about bad relationships, trust me.
I have learned that many people get tied up in knots trying to make choices that will please all the people in our lives. We end up looking, AND FEELING, like pretzels. I think it starts when we are young adults, trying to figure out how to grow up and relate to our parents as adults instead of children. Some of us never get past that one. And then all our relationships for the rest of our lives are affected by that one.
You see, one of the biggest challenges to relationships is that we don’t have good boundaries. We don’t know how to pay attention to our own internal feelings, and to value ourselves. We get pulled to and fro by this person and that person and what they say is best for us, and what they want from us. Just like that car dealer who tried to convince me that he had the best car deal for me, our mothers will tell us that they know what is best for us, even when we are 40 years old and we can make our own decisions. Our friends will tell us what we should do, even when we do not ask for their advice. If we ask for advice that is one thing, but some people want to control us, who we see, where we go, because they are insecure, and they need to be with us all the time. There are all kinds of reasons why relationships get unhealthy.
So a friend taught me a phrase to use, (with myself) when I feel like I am being controlled by someone else, or I am having trouble keeping boundaries in a relationship. Here it is: I don’t have to explain, justify or defend my choices.
So let’s try it out. One example I can think of, about a time when folks get caught in the pull of the family dynamics is this: where will we go for Christmas dinner? This is a hard one, especially if you have a partner, and children, and you both still have parents that are living. Or it’s hard if either one of your parents don’t like your partner, for any reason. Some of us have partners that aren’t welcome in our parents’ home, and that’s not acceptable. And so every year, the conversations begin.
If you are in this situation, I would encourage you to try this. First of all, find a quiet place, apart from all the voices of people who are fighting over you, you know the ones that are pulling you (like the wishbone on the Christmas turkey). Dig deep down in your soul, and find your truth. Where would YOU like to be on Christmas day? And with whom? Picture it. NO, you don’t get Tahiti with the cute guy or girl as choice.
Now, you can only control yourself. But you can decide not to go some places. And here is the thing, here is the mantra, you do not have to explain, defend or justify your choice. You can just say: I’m going to do this for Christmas this year; it’s what I want to do. And just stop. Be silent.
“But you always do this.” “Well that’s not going to work for me this year. I’m going to do this.” You see one of the things we know about family systems, and healthy behavior, is that when one person gets healthy and starts setting healthy boundaries, the rest of the system eventually has to react. And often the rest of the people start getting healthy too. And in any case, you get to do what you want to do for once.
The point is, you have to sit down, in the quiet, and find your truth. What do YOU want, and then you have to speak that truth. And don’t explain, justify or defend your choice. You are living in your peace, your center, your truth, your choice.
And here is why. In a letter to the church at Corinth, Paul tells us how to behave in relationships. He talks about love. But it’s not about romantic love. It’s about what it means to love ourselves, and to know that we are loved by God. You see if I know that God loves me and God loves you, then we can have a mature healthy relationship. We can respect one another. That means we won’t act like children. I won’t let you bully me. I will pay attention to my feelings and stand up for myself.
This is what Paul says: in a loving relationship, people are kind and patient. When people are in a healthy loving friendship, they are not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way and it is not irritable or resentful.
Paul says love does not insist on its own way. Now you might go back to the discussion of where to spend Christmas and say, well if I decide where I want to go for Christmas, and that makes someone in my family mad then I am insisting on my own way. But I think insisting on our own way, as Paul is talking about it, probably refers to controlling other people. You know how this goes, in a group, when one person tries to control the whole group, and always has to have their way.
Paul is saying, in a group of friends, or in a family, there is compromise. People work together, and understand that not everyone is going to get their way all the time if we are going to be together.
Now back to Christmas, you may imagine a Christmas dinner where certain family members that you like are there, and certain family members that are annoying are not there, and of course, you don’t have control over that unless you host the dinner at your house. And then THEY get to decide whether or not they will come, because they also do not have to explain, justify or defend their decisions to you. Do you get the idea?
This takes some time. But the concept is a good one. Paul tells us that in healthy relationships people are patient and kind toward one another. We are not envious, boastful, arrogant or rude. And yet some of you tell me every week, that you are being treated in ways that are the exact opposite of this.
When that happens, after you get over your initial feelings of hurt or anger, I hope you will take out this scripture and read it. And then ask yourself the hard question: am I being loving in this relationship? Either way, pray for that other person. And then respect yourself enough not to allow yourself to be treated badly. If the relationship is one that you are really invested in, then see if you can find a way to have a calm, mature conversation with the person and tell them how you feel. My spiritual director tells me to stand in my truth: “I feel this way when you do these things.” They can’t argue with the way I feel.
But you have to be willing to walk away, at least for awhile, if the person’s treatment of you is not acceptable. Like I walked away from the car salesman, but that was easy. Having good boundaries means that we will say to a person, will not accept being treated badly. I love you, but I also love myself and I will not hang around while you treat me with disrespect. That is the hard, mature part of being in a healthy relationship. And that’s what we want, to be treated well and treat each other well. And we don’t have to explain, justify, or defend our choice. God calls us to be in living mature relationships.
I’ve given you a lot of information today. This was not an easy message. These skills are not ones that we learn quickly. We are going to be talking about healthy relationships for several weeks. You can read this message and the others again and again on our Village web site and blog.
We all want healthy relationships, and we all deserve to have them. I believe Paul would say that would should not settle for anything less. That’s why he described what love is, and invited us to live in this way. So let’s strive to love in this way (I Corinthians 13:1-7 from the New Revised Standard Version for those following along via the web):
4Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant 5or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; 6it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. 7It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
So let’s go and be people who love. Amen.
Sunday, September 4, 2011
The Village Kids are going to their room now and looking at this picture. They are going to have a chance to imagine what these two girls are thinking. We could do that too if we wanted to. I’m going to ask Jamie over lunch what they came up with.
Do you remember being their age? One day you are best friends with someone, and then next day, you hate their guts. One day you are “in the clique” and the next day you are out. One day you are in love with that boy or that girl, and the next day you wonder what you ever saw in that girl or boy, when you were little kids or maybe next week. Children, and teen-agers are fickle in relationship. They will turn their back on you in no time. Girls especially; am I right?
But here is the sad part: many of us never outgrow this kind of behavior. Now we expect this kind of behavior from our 12 or 13 year olds. We expect it, it happens. But too often, it happens with grown-ups, seriously!?!?
The childish games we played in grade school and junior high, get repeated through adulthood. We turn our backs on our friends. We lie. We cheat. We backstab. We get possessive or jealous. And so we sabotage our relationships despite ourselves.
Now in our defense, it’s not all our fault. It takes two to have a friendship. And other people are not always trustworthy. Sometimes they hurt us. They turn on us. They’re selfish. You fill in the blank. It’s a wonder anyone has a long-lasting partnership or friendship in our world. For the next several weeks at The Village, we are going to focus on relationships here at The Village, and what it takes to have “Healthy Relationships.”
Our theme for the year has been “We have enough.” I believe we have enough emotional maturity to have healthy relationships. I believe we can have good enough boundaries, and self love, to have healthy relationships. I believe we have enough strength, from God, to learn who to have healthy relationships. I believe we have the ability, with God’s help, to have these healthy relationships.
The Bible has some great stories of people learning the hard lessons of how to have good relationships. Sometimes we need to look at good and bad relationships to learn. Over the next few weeks we’re going to hit some of the best stories. Today we look at Ruth.
Here is how the story goes (Ruth Chapter 1 from the Message Translation for those following along via the web): Naomi’s family was from Bethlehem but they went to live in Moab because there was a famine in their homeland. Naomi’s two sons married two Moabite women: Orpah and Ruth. Naomi’s husband died and the sons died and so these three women were left with no men to provide for them. And in these times, you were totally dependent on the men.
Ruth heard that there was food again in her homeland of Judah so she decided to travel back there.
8-9 After a short while on the road, Naomi told her two daughters-in-law, "Go back. Go home and live with your mothers. And may God treat you as graciously as you treated your deceased husbands and me. May God give each of you a new home and a new husband!" She kissed them and they cried openly.
10 They said, "No, we're going on with you to your people."
11-13 But Naomi was firm: "Go back, my dear daughters. Why would you come with me? Do you suppose I still have sons in my womb who can become your future husbands? Go back, dear daughters—on your way, please! I'm too old to get a husband. Why, even if I said, 'There's still hope!' and this very night got a man and had sons, can you imagine being satisfied to wait until they were grown? Would you wait that long to get married again? No, dear daughters; this is a bitter pill for me to swallow—more bitter for me than for you. God has dealt me a hard blow."
14 Again they cried openly. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law good-bye; but Ruth embraced her and held on.
15 Naomi said, "Look, your sister-in-law is going back home to live with her own people and gods; go with her."
16-17 But Ruth said, "Don't force me to leave you; don't make me go home. Where you go, I go; and where you live, I'll live. Your people are my people, your God is my god; where you die, I'll die, and that's where I'll be buried, so help me God—not even death itself is going to come between us!"
18-19 When Naomi saw that Ruth had her heart set on going with her, she gave in. And so the two of them traveled on together to Bethlehem.
Ruth understood commitment in a relationship. She had committed to this new family. She was not going to abandon her elderly mother-in-law Naomi, who had lost her husband and her sons. Family was everything to these people. These were the people of Israel and Ruth had taken on their God as her own. We don’t know why. We don’t know what she was leaving behind. But she was ready to stay with her mother-in-law Naomi. They must have had a strong bond, as friends. Ruth understood commitment in a relationship, in relationship not everything is good and light, in for followers of God. She knew the road ahead would be hard, but she made her choice – to stand with Naomi.
Because here is the thing: none of us get any promises of a life without some ups and downs. Ruth understood that. She had already lost her husband to death. So she made a choice, to move forward in life, with Naomi.
We all get a choice. Who will we move through this life with? Who will be the friends we will hang in there with?
I learned an important lesson about all this early on in my adult life. In my first church I had a women’s small group, where we talked about spirituality. It was a great group, because we had women of all life stages, young and old, married, divorced, widowed, some with young children, some who had raised their children long ago and some, like me, who had never had children. One night, we talked about marriage and commitment and those primary, life-long commitments.
Some women, who had divorced and remarried, shared that they had learned that when you leave one committed relationship for another, that you really just leave one set of problems for another. Everyone has baggage. They confessed that if they had it to do over again, they might have just worked harder in the first marriage. You just trade one set of baggage for another set. It gave me something to think about as a 24 year old single woman who really wanted to be married, and who spent the next 10 years thinking I would never find a life partner, the wisdom of those women was not lost on me.
I have some other friends, two men, who were in a relationship about ten years ago. One morning they woke up and realized they were not sure they wanted to stay together. They were at a crossroad. They had to decide if they were going to stay together and it was not looking good. They had been together for about 10 years at the time. They were past that honeymoon stage when you are crazy in love. They were to the point where you realize that those habits of the person that annoyed you for the first year are never going to change. That was on September 10, 2001.
They were living in New Jersey, and one of them was supposed to be working in New York City on September 11, 2001. The events of that day, changed our country and our world forever. Planes hit buildings, lives were lost, and my friends, like many others, took another look at what is most important. Suddenly the little things that were causing conflict in their relationship were not so important. In fact I asked my friend this week, if he could remember what they were fighting about. He said, “not really.” It was the same little stuff they had been struggling with for the first 10 years of their relationship and the past 10. They realized they would rather face life in this crazy world together, rather than alone, and they chose to build a life together. Now, ten years later they adopted two children. Today they have a strong family. They love God, and they understand that commitment is what is most important. No relationship is perfect. What’s important is finding someone worth working with, to build a life together.
So, how about you? Are you happy with your ability to hang in there and do the hard work of being in a friendship or a partnership, some significant relationship with an imperfect person? Because, as we know, no one is perfect. Now, let me be clear. I am not suggesting here that anyone remain in an abusive relationship. We all need clear boundaries to take care of ourselves. And there are limits to what we can put up with, because we cannot control the behavior of the other person. Did you hear me? We can not control the behavior of another person. But if you find someone who wants to work at a friendship or a partnership, are you willing to hang in there, do the hard work and find a healthy relationship. That is the question that this story from Ruth and Naomi has to offer us today.
I want to invite you to think, now, of one relationship that you would like to make better. Perhaps it is one that you are about to give up on. Or maybe it is one that is most important to you, and you simply want to re-commit your energy to it today. I am going to give you some time, in the quiet to ponder how you will commit to working on that relationship. You might write something down, or send a text, an email or a Facebook message to that person and let them you know care about them. Now, you may not succeed in this. It takes two. But you may have someone see the Jesus in you and reconnect.
Do you have a place that will help you foster your health in your relationships? If not, find one. There are many places where you can find that help, many trail heads to the paths that lead to healthy friendships and partnerships. If you haven’t found one yet and you’re near the corner of Monroe & Central some Sunday, drop by at 11 AM (or coming next year in Maumee).