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Nov 04, 2018

Choosing Faith amid Adversity: All Saints Day

Passage: Ruth 1:15-21

Speaker: Michael E. Karunas

Series: The Choice Is Yours

Category: Sermon Series


Over 1,000 years before the time of Jesus there was a famine in the land of Judah and the town of Bethehem.  This would be the town were Jesus was later born – “O Little Town of Bethlehem” is what we sing every year at Christmas.  This is a bit ironic because the name “Bethlehem” means “house of bread.”  And yet, at this time there was no bread in the “house of bread.”  A famine had hit the land.  So a man traveled with his wife and two sons to a land in the south, Moab, because there was food there.  His name was Elimelech and his wife was Naomi.  The family settled in Moab long enough for the two sons to marry Moabite women.  But in time Elimelech and his two sons all died.  And Naomi decided to go back home to her people.  By now the famine was over.  Before she left, she told her two daughters-in-law not to come with her.  They were young enough, she said, to marry again and start families of their own in Moab.  After all, this was their homeland.  One of them agreed.  But the other one, named Ruth, refused.  She said “No, I will not leave you.”  This is what happened next.  Read Ruth 1:15-21

These verses are often read at weddings, but they are probably more appropriate for funerals.  Death provides the backdrop for the whole story.  Within the first 5 verses 50% of the main characters die.  We don’t know how old they were when they died; whether they suffered in the process; if they died suddenly or first were sick.  We just know that they died.  As if to remind us that death is a reality for all of us.  In one sense the details of how death happens are not important.  For in the end, what does matter, is that our loved one is no longer with us as they once were.  Regardless of how they died, there is nothing we can do to change that.

The question for us, however, is: How will we respond to the adversity that death brings?  We don’t always choose the way life unfolds, but we can choose how we respond!  And we can look at Naomi and Ruth for guidance.  When we do we see that, at first, Naomi was bitter.  When she went home, people recognized her: “Isn’t that Naomi?” they asked.  But she said, “No.  Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara” (which means bitter).  “For I left here full (with a husband and two sons) but now I come home empty. 

Death can make us bitter and it’s understandable.  It’s part of the grieving process (not the only part, but a part).  Because death is often experienced as not fair.  It’s not fair that we didn’t have a chance to say “goodbye.”  Or that a parent watches their child or grandchild depart before they do.  Or when someone dies in the prime of their life.  Or when someone who lived a healthy lifestyle contracts an illness we associate with unhealthy behavior.  None of that feels fair.  This is what Naomi felt.  She suffered loss after loss after loss.  It wasn’t fair and it made her bitter.

But in spite of this, Ruth and Naomi found community.  Ruth created community with Naomi by pledging to stand by her and journey into the unknown future with her.  In their grief, they needed each other; they stuck by each other, putting one foot in front of the other even while not understanding how they would make it; and in so doing they found support in each other.  And when they arrived in Naomi’s homeland, they found a community waiting for them – one that recognized them and listened to them; allowing them to share the pain of their struggle.  And… in that community they kept the faith.  If we were to keep reading further in the Book of Ruth, we would see that Naomi kept following the Laws of God.  And she taught them to Ruth.  Following the Laws of God was the way to express faith.  Which means that even in the bitterness and grief, Naomi continued to believe; to cling to faith and to the faithful practices of the community.  She didn’t give up on faith.  And… over time, some incredible things happened.  Ruth would go on to be the great-great-grandmother of King David, who would be the 28th great grandfather of Joseph, the husband of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Because God brings life and salvation, even out of the pain and bitterness of death. 

Today is All Saints Day and it is appropriate that we think of this story on this day.  This is the a day that reminds us of the reality of death, but also of God’s desire to bring forth life from death.  Death is an adversity that affects us all.  And like Naomi and Ruth, we have a choice.  How will we respond?  We may be bitter and that’s okay.  But we don’t want that to keep us from community!  It is well documented that things like sadness and depression grow exponentially the more we isolate ourselves from others.  In our most painful moments we want to cling to the community around us.  Because when our faith wavers, the faith of the community can carry us.  Which is why persistence is important – getting up every day and putting one foot in front of the other, even if we’re not exactly sure where the road is leading.  And knowing that others make that journey with us.  Above all, it is not giving up on God.  For God’s salvation doesn’t come in place of adversity.  It is a gift discovered through it.   

That’s why we light candles today.  Candles signify our loved ones whose earthly journeys have come to an end.  Candles, therefore, represent our sadness.  The time with our loved ones was far too short – it always is.  But lames and fire and light in scripture are symbols of life and eternity.  And so our candles confirm for us the eternal life that our loved ones have received.  Too often we are distracted from seeing that.  Our bitterness sometimes gets in the way.  But these candles signify a divine reality, whether we see it or not.  That nothing in life, not even death itself, can separate any of us from the love of God in Christ Jesus; nor from the ones who dwell permanently in his presence in the kingdom of heaven.