Wherever You Go - Sam Buehrer - SylvaniaUCC - Nov42018

November 4, 2018


Sermon                           “Wherever You Go”                November 04, 2018

by Samuel Buehrer

Ruth 1:1-18        

1In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. 2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. 3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.

6Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had considered his people and given them food. 7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. 8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 15So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried. May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!” 18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

Mark 12:28-34

28One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’ —this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.

Note before Ruth Reading:  In the Mark passage, we hear Jesus say what he believes to be the greatest commandment.   He begins by reciting the Shema, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one.”  Then he goes on to recite not one but two commandments, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength. and you shall love your neighbor as yourself.”  These commandments are central to the Christian faith and the Jewish.  At one point in his ministry, Jesus tells a parable to flesh out this great commandment, that is the parable of the Good Samaritan.  He upends tradition by having the Samaritan, the foreigner, live out these commandments rather than respectable men of faith in the Hebrew religious establishment.  In the same way, the author of Ruth does the same thing.  The author has the foreigner, Ruth, living out the embodiment of what it means to love God and love neighbor.  Hear now the story of Ruth…

 

Note before Sermon:  If this story were told today, where would we find Naomi and Ruth? Would they be in a caravan moving across Mexico fleeing Guatemala for their life, or might they be on a raft in the Mediterranean Sea fleeing a land of starvation where there was no future for them?  What is most interesting is that the story teller chooses to use a refugee, a foreigner to tell one of the most beautiful stories in all of scripture that speaks of the love and faithfulness of our God.  It would be like one of the greatest preachers of our day using a migrant in one of the caravans or a young refugee from one of the rafts in the Mediterranean to tell a story of how to best exemplify the love of God.

 

Sermon                          “Wherever You Go”                November 04, 2018

by Samuel Buehrer

 

During one of the recent forest fires out west, a national magazine assigned one of their photographers to get a series of pictures of the fire.  Because the smoke was so thick near the ground and the fire was so unpredictable in its movement, the photographer decided the best photo that he could get was going to be an aerial photo.  He called the home office and requested that they hire a plane. They agreed and made the arrangements and told him to go to the airport where there would be a plane awaiting.  He arrived at the small airport, there was a plane warming up and waiting.  He jumped in with his equipment and yelled, “Let’s go! Let’s go!”  The pilot swung the airplane into the wind and they were soon in the air.  Once they reached altitude, the photographer instructed the pilot to fly to the north side of the fire and to make 3 or 4 low passes.

“Why?” asked the pilot.

“Because. I’m going to take pictures!  I’m a photographer and photographers take pictures!” he said with exasperation and impatience. 

After a long pause, the pilot said, “You mean you’re not the instructor?”

Both the photographer and the pilot had placed their trust in the other assuming that the one in whom they placed their trust was worthy of that trust.  Both had failed in their assumptions.

In today’s story of Naomi and Ruth, the story teller does a surprising thing and chooses the least likely person in the story in which to tell a story of profound trust and wisdom.  The story teller places it all in the person of Ruth. 

Allow me to give you the background to this story so that you can begin to comprehend what the story teller is trying to get across.

To understand this story, we need to catch a glimpse of what it meant to be a widow in the Hebrew culture in the time of this story which is around 1000 B.C. At that time in the Hebrew culture, there was no equivalent to our system of Social Security.  When a woman’s husband died, she was left destitute.  Any inheritance that he had was not allowed to go to a woman but always went to the next of kin that was a male.  Because of this law, the Hebrews seeing that it was not fair to widows, created a system that they called Levirite marriage.  In this system, the closest male heir to the one who died was expected to care for the widow and take her into his family.  If there were no male heirs who were willing or able to take on this task, at best the widow was left homeless and to beg for survival. Other than death, her only other choice was to prostitute herself. 

Her situation is akin to one that I learned about when I traveled to Ukraine on a medical mission trip back in 2002.  One evening a young man came to ask the advice of a physical therapist who was traveling with us.  This young man had been in an auto accident where the nerves to his right arm were severed essentially leaving that arm paralyzed.  He had found a surgeon in Kiev who told him that he would do a surgery for him that would give him back the use of his arm. The surgery cost him $3,000 dollars which was at that time was the equivalent of five years of wages for a medical doctor in Ukraine. What the young man did not know was that the surgery was a bogus surgery.  I asked his minister what is this young man’s future.  Since there was no system in Ukraine like our Social Security system, this young man was totally dependent upon any family he had to provide him for his future for he would never find employment again.  The pastor went on to say that very likely the young man would commit suicide within the next three years due to his situation. That pastor went on to say that in the past year alone he had conducted funerals for 33 people who had committed suicide.  I was astounded.  At that time, I had been in ministry for 15 years and yet had to officiate at a funeral for even one person who had committed suicide.

It is in this type of hopeless situation that Naomi finds herself with the death of her husband and her two sons.  Due to her limited means, she had built her life around that of her husband and her two sons.  In them, she had placed her trust.  But this placement of trust failed her when all three of them died.   In this story, she now finds herself living in a foreign land where she is treated as a foreigner.  There was no future for her there. Since she had heard that the famine had ended in Bethlehem, there was a chance, be it very small, that there might be a future for her among her own people.

It is in this context that the story teller has Ruth, Naomi’s daughter-in-law, say some of the most poetic and most beautiful words that anyone would every want to hear, “Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God. 17Where you die, I will die— there will I be buried.”  Many Hebrew scholars have said that this statement by Ruth best exemplifies the faithfulness of God for the Hebrew people. “Wherever they go, God will go with them; wherever they lodge, God will be there too; and when they come to die, even in their death they will not be alone for God will be with them.

On this All Saints Sunday, when we remember those whom we have loved who have died and are no longer with us but only in our memories, these words of Ruth are powerful and full of meaning for us.  Our God is a God who never leaves us.  Our God is a God who goes with us wherever we go.  When those whom we love die and are no longer with us, we have the assurance that even in their death that they are not alone for God is with them and the God that is with them is with us giving us strength to carry on.

It is my hope that we all, every one of us comes to know in the depth of our being the comfort of knowing that  “Wherever we go, God will go with us; Wherever we lodge, there God will be all so; that our people shall be God’s people. 17And finally when I die, that God will be with me in that part of my journey as well.” 

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