Grace and peace to you, from God our Creator and from Jesus Christ, who is our Savior. Amen.
We all come from a long line of something. We all have a history…a background. And those who have gone before us: Our parents, grandparents and others, all had something to do with who we are today.
For example, usually around this time of year, with the autumn chill in the air, my anxiety level begins to slightly go up. Because I come from a long line of lutefisk eaters…and the holiday season is only a couple of months away. As a child, my grandfather made sure that all of the grandkids had a serving on our plate of that gelatinous, lye-infused lump of grossness, (I’m holding back here!) and I had no choice but to let it slide down my throat. It’s my family line…a kind of an inheritance, and it was my duty to eat it. (Sometimes, I suspect I got put in the wrong family line.)
There are other things:
- I come from a long line of Minnesota sports fans.
- I come from a long line of those who love to read.
- I come from a long line of men who are terrible at fishing.
- A long line of those for whom the church has been very important.
- A long line of those who generally liked school.
- a long line of those for whom music is very important.
My list of things I’ve inherited goes on. You have your own list. We all come from long lines of something.
The scripture that we’re looking at today comes from the book of Ruth. And when linked to our Gospel lesson for today, it becomes a story about family, and about the long line…the inheritance. In fact, it’s fair to say that the story of Ruth is the beginning of one of those long lines.
This story begins with a family of four: the husband, Elimelech; the wife, Naomi; and their two sons. Like many families today this family was experiencing some economic difficulties. A famine had spread throughout their land, and food was scarce. So Elimelech and Naomi packed up the family in a small U-Haul and moved to Moab, where there was more food.
Shortly after they arrived in Moab, Elimelech died unexpectedly. By this time both sons had met local women and were married. One to Ruth, and one to Orpah. Then suddenly, both sons died. All this happened within a short span of time. Naomi was understandably devastated. And she was in trouble; opportunities for women, especially widows, in that day and time were practically non-existent. And all she had left were her two daughter-in-laws, who were also now widows. Naomi was very worried about how the three of them would survive.
The only viable option was for her to return to her hometown and hope there would be a place for her somewhere among her relatives. But shortly after the three widows began their journey, Naomi began to second-guess her decision to bring Ruth and Orpah with her. If they moved to her home, then they would be the foreigners. And foreigners were treated with suspicion. So she encouraged them to go back to their homeland. They were still young; they could find new husbands and have the security she could not give them. Naomi did this out of love. She wanted to see them safe, and happy.
Finally, Orpah decided that her mother-in-law was right. It would be best for her to return. Ruth, however, would not leave Naomi. Ruth loved her deeply and she would remain. It was in this context that Ruth spoke some of the most famous words in all of literature: “Where you go, I will go, where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” Hear these words again: “Where you go, I will go, where you stay, I will stay. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” These are words of dedication…of faithfulness…of love.
The story of Ruth and Naomi is what love is all about. It is about loyalty, faithfulness and mutual devotion. Naomi loves so much that she will send these two women away from her for their own protection. Ruth loves so much that she refuses to leave.
Many of us have seen, or experienced this kind of love. There are people who we love so much, that we would do anything for them.
I saw it this summer. Some of you know that my father-in-law, Lyle Tjosaas, died last month, after a series of strokes. Lyle and his wife, Carol, were dairy farmers near the town of Kasson, just west of Rochester. For Lyle, going to work meant walking across the farmyard to the milking parlor. So Lyle and Carol were together almost every day. Breakfast…coffee… lunch…coffee…coffee…dinner… And Lyle was an amazing man. He served on the local, state and national dairy boards. He was a leader in the Sons of Norway, and the Lion’s Club. He was a Dodge County Commissioner. Everybody in town, knew Lyle. And nothing…nothing was more important to him than his family and his church. He was a very faithful man…someone I looked up to as a mentor. After Lyle’s stroke last May, he spent three weeks at Mayo Clinic, and then transferred to a rehab center. But in August there was another devastating stroke, and Lyle died the next week.
Through that journey, I was constantly amazed, watching my mother-in-law, Carol and the rest of their family. Carol would not leave his side. She was there, with him, every single day; at the hospital, keeping watch, talking to him when we weren’t even sure if he could hear. And then she was at the rehab center; from early in the mornings until late at night. It was awe-inspiring, and a blessing, to watch…
The vows that this stoic, Norwegian farm couple made to each other 58 years earlier…this love…well it does not give up. And Lori and her 6 brothers and sisters were with them throughout, and were there at his bedside on the day he died. For this family, it wasn’t a choice. This family lived a Ruth and Naomi kind of love, completely dedicated to each other. It wasn’t, “I love you for what you can do for me.” Or “I’ll love you as long as it is convenient.” No. It’s, “I’ll love you no matter what. I’ll always be there.”
And like Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law, Carol is my Mother-in-law. And like Ruth and Naomi’s family, our family has had a difficult season. But also like Ruth, I am so blessed and grateful. Because Lyle, Carol and the Tjosaas family and this amazing love; because of this love that I experienced, I can boldly say: “These people are my people…and their God is my God. Where they go, I will go…where they stay, I will stay.”
I feel this love for my in-laws. I feel this love for my own family. And I feel this love for my close friends…I know that all I would have to do is call, and they would come. And I hope they know the same about me. “Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”
Ruth was committed to her mother-in-law even when there was nothing for her to gain and everything to lose. So these two women made their way to Bethlehem, Naomi’s home town. Naomi’s relatives welcomed her as they entered the city.
As poor widows, it was not an easy life. The two of them had to work hard to scratch out a living. But one day a man named Boaz noticed Ruth gathering grain. Naomi played match-maker and fixed her daughter-in-law up with Boaz. And Ruth and Boaz found love. And here is where our family line begins: Ruth and Boaz had a son in Bethlehem, named Obed. Obed was the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David, as in David and Goliath…as in King David.
David’s son was Solomon, who had Rehoboam, who had Abijah. Then came Assa, Jehoshaphat and Jehoram. There were 19 more generations in this family line, until it leads to Joseph, the husband of Mary, and then to Jesus. Jesus’ family line began with Ruth, a widow and foreigner, who is only in our story because of great love, and loyalty to a woman named Naomi
Jesus comes from a long line…an inheritance…Jesus came from a long line of love.
And so do we. That is really our Word for today. So do we. That kind of complete, unconditional, unquestioning love is what the cross is all about. It is about a love that never quits, never gives up, never fails. It is sacrificial love from the heart of God. It is a love that is always present. It’s not, “I love you for what you can do for me;” or “I’ll love you as long as it is convenient.” It’s, “I’ll love you no matter what. I’ll always be there for you.” And you and I are the recipients of that love. In 1 Peter 3:9, it says that “It is for this that you were called—that you might inherit a blessing.” We are the inheritors of the gifts of God. There is a family line that extends from you, all the way back to Jesus, and before that, all the way to Ruth and Naomi.
Over thousands of years, God’s people have believed in that love, and they’ve passed that love on. Through plagues and famines, through wars, disasters and government shutdowns, they did not let go of it. And we are the recipients of that love. And we have the opportunity…no, more than that…we have the responsibility to let that line of love continue on to those who come after us, and frankly, to all of those around us now.
Look around you at the people you are worshiping with right now. These people are your people. Their God is your God. 35 years ago, a decision was made to start a church at what then was the hind end of the Twin Cities. A pastor was called who knocked on doors. Leadership was elected. Worship was held. And on December 17, 1978, a charter was signed that declared Lord of Life will be a church, a community and a family. “Your people are my people. Your God is my God.” Many who signed this charter have passed on…but many are here, even today. And we are the inheritors of that work, and that gift of God.
In our Gospel, Jesus redefines who receives this gift of love…the kind of love Ruth and Naomi shared. His disciples tell him that his family is outside, waiting for him. But Jesus corrects them. He says “Here are my mother and my brothers! Whoever does God’s will is my brother and sister and mother.”
Jesus is telling us that we are all the family of God, and we are all a link in a long line of love. Like an inheritance, passed down from generation, to generation, to generation, we receive the gifts of God. Because of Jesus, the promises that we hear named every time we do a baptism: Eternal life…forgiveness of sins…that God knows us by name, and that we are adopted into a family of faith…these promises come to us as inheritance.
You receive this inheritance because of God’s great love for you. You do nothing. Nothing. Nothing to earn it. Naomi didn’t earn that love from Ruth, it was a gift. Lyle didn’t earn that love from Carol, it was a gift. And we don’t earn that love from God. It is gift. For you. Today.
And that love is a responsibility for us to share. We all come from this long line of love. And because of that, we are the church…a community…a family. We can boldly say to each other, and to those who come after us:
“Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go; where you stay, I will stay;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.”