Summary: Naomi returns to Bethlehem despondent and embittered by sorrow and loss. What she fails to see, is what we often miss as well – that God is already at work behind the scenes!
Running On Empty - Ruth 1:19-22 - February 3, 2013
Series: From Heartache to Hope – The Redemption of Ruth - #3
As some of you will know, I have a sister. She lives in Calgary, and has a growing family of her own, so we don’t see each other very often – certainly not as often as we would like. It also turns out that we don’t talk to each other all that much either – not for a lack of wanting to, but more due to the realities of two very busy lives. Yet every now and then, one of us will give the other a call, and we will talk for a while, and we’ll spend some time catching up with one another. And so it was that I gave her a call a couple of weeks ago on her birthday. And as we talked it suddenly struck me that my little sister was 39 years old! Now I’m not sure how that all happened, where all the intervening years went, I just have to accept the fact that it’s true! Not that that’s all that remarkable in itself, it’s more that I have to wrestle with the reality that if she is 39, it means I’m already over that 40 year mark myself!
When I was 20, 40 seemed ancient. Now that I’m there it doesn’t seem all that old after all - but the reality of the passing years cannot be denied. To have another 40 or 50 years wouldn’t be all that unusual in our society but it is by no means guaranteed. And with that realization I’ve found that I’ve been spending some time reflecting on my life, and how it’s turned out so far. I can think back upon the dreams for my life that I had in my youth, and I can safely say that very few of them have survived the passage of the years. And maybe you can relate to that as well - there are shattered dreams, and broken hopes, and unmet expectations that litter the years of our lives.
Now that doesn’t necessarily mean that life hasn’t been good. It also doesn’t mean that new dreams haven’t been reached for and attained. And it doesn’t mean that we need to live with sorrow in the present at our regrets in the past either. But it does mean that there have been times of sorrow and sadness, times of deep questioning and searching, times of hurt and anger and maybe even bitterness or despair, that have left their mark upon our lives.
I think Naomi could probably relate to some of that. Life certainly had not turned out like she had hoped it would. In point of fact, her life, in many ways, had been hard, full of shattered dreams and disappointments, not to mention heartache and loss. Bit by bit everything she had held on to and put her happiness and joy in had been lost to her. The famine led them to leave their home in Bethlehem, to part with family and friends and all things familiar, and to go to a foreign land where God was not known. It was in that land of Moab that her husband would pass away leaving Naomi to raise their two sons alone.
Things looked up as they in turn grew into men, met the young women who would become their wives, and got married. This was a chance for Naomi to live again – to enjoy getting to know her daughters-in-law, to anticipate the arrival of grandchildren, to know that her own children would care for her in her old age.
Yet all those dreams are shattered as her sons meet their own end in the land of Moab just as their father had. Once again, Naomi is left, in many ways alone, and without hope for the future. Life goes on, but she’s running on empty. There seems to be nothing left to give and nothing left to live for. And maybe you can relate because you’ve been there too; maybe you are even in that place today. Life in Moab, while it once seemed to promise so much, has, in the end, become very bitter for Naomi. She has hit the bottom, reached the lowest of the lows, and it’s when she’s in that deep dark night of the soul that she decides to head home, to return to Judah, the place of praise. It’s from out of that dark empty space that she begins the journey back to God, but she doesn’t walk that road alone; Ruth will walk it with her, and that’s where we pick up their story this morning, Ruth, chapter 1, beginning in verse 19 …
“So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?” “Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the LORD has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The LORD has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning.” (Ruth 1:19–22, NIV84)