Summary: Ruth’s story of irony and inclusion is also a reminder of God’s presence in the Christian community
What’s your greatest fear?… Anyone here afraid of spiders? I used to be afraid of spiders. I’m ok with them now, but for a while…. Well I remember once in college I woke up in my old dorm and there was a garden spider on top of my covers, about 10 or so inches from my head. He was looking at me and I was looking at him and we were both frozen…. I moved… rather quickly in whatever direction he wasn’t.… He felt of me as I did of him and moved in another direction. After I felt a little safer, I stripped the bed and ruffled through my clothes, which were everywhere anyway…. (I was in college) So after feeling sure that he had returned to haunting Miss Muffet or whatever he wanted to do. I took a shower and got dressed, remembering on that very cold morning to put on long johns and I headed to my Old Testament Survey class at 8:00am.
Rev. Chuck Hodges, campus minister and professor of this class was dealing with the transmission of Biblical stories through their telling for each generation. He was dealing with Exodus when I felt something move, something tickled my knee, the inside part, and it was only moving more…Well you’ve put it together by now… I barely had my hand up asking to be excused before I was out the door, moving down the hall and taking off my pants along the way in front of Jane England’s history and political science class. I suppose I was making a little noise along the way to the restroom, because everyone else in that hall quieted down as I passed. And so I made it to the restroom… in my long-johns and after rolling them up from the ankle found the spider. I wish I could tell you that I set him free… but that would be a lie. And besides my initial swat way back in Chuck Hodges classroom had pretty well flattened him.
So is anyone afraid of spiders? What about snakes? I have a snake story too… but who doesn’t? I’ll save it for another day. We all have fears: fears of heights, fears of closed in places, fears of dentist. I have a friend who dreads pregnancy not because of the fear of giving birth, but because of the needles she would face in the hospital.
Fear can be paralyzing or it can lead to panic? I hate to confess this as a pastor but I still have an inclination of fear, whenever I am with a dying person, a person who will be passing at any given time. I remember when my grandmother was dying, for a few days she would experience stomach pains and when she did she would groan and move a bit and I thought she was dying then, and it took everything I had not to go running into the hall but to stay with her.
One of the reasons that I made myself stay was because in seminary I learned that likely the greatest fear of one who is dying is that he or she will be left alone and forgotten. But I have come to believe that that fear, of being alone, of being forgotten is not only terrifying for those who are dying but also for those who are living. I would wager that if you and I could talk deeply enough and candidly enough that that would be a common fear.
Our texts today from Ruth is one of my favorite stories in the Old Testament, and it is a story of God’s provision in the life of Naomi and Ruth through a kinsman-redeemer to insure that they are not forgotten and they are not alone. It is an ironic story because it centers around a gentile woman. It is a prophetic story because it foreshadows the work of Jesus Christ, our kinsmen redeemer. It is also… a love story, for ultimately that is the antidote of this common fear.
While your turning to Ruth chapter 4 let me tell you a little about what’s been going on prior. Naomi had moved with her husband and two sons to Moab. Her two sons married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah. Naomi’s husband and sons died and so she prepared to return to Judah to find relief from the famine. She freed her son’s wives from going with her. Orpah with much appreciation accepted her release and stayed in Moab. Ruth replied with that famous passage that is so often spoken in weddings or moments of great loyalty and affection. “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." And so they return to Judah.