Sixth Sunday after Trinity July 19, 1998
8, 456, 315, 37
Hymns from The Lutheran Hymnal (1941) unless otherwise noted
Now it came to pass in the days when the judges ruled, that there was a famine in the land. And a certain man of Bethlehemjudah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he, and his wife, and his two sons. And the name of the man was Elimelech, and the name of his wife Naomi, and the name of his two sons Mahlon and Chilion, Ephrathites of Bethlehemjudah. And they came into the country of Moab, and continued there. And Elimelech Naomi’s husband died; and she was left, and her two sons. And they took them wives of the women of Moab; the name of the one was Orpah, and the name of the other Ruth: and they dwelled there about ten years. And Mahlon and Chilion died also both of them; and the woman was left of her two sons and her husband. Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the LORD deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The LORD grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the LORD is gone out against me. And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. And Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. These are the words.
In Christ Jesus, Dear Fellow Redeemed,
One of the major soft drink companies in our country used to have an ad slogan. I’m sure you remember it—they claimed that their product was “the choice of a new generation.” The ads showed attractive, confident, intelligent young people in high-tech jets or expensive sports cars. The point of the ads was that today’s “new generation” knows how to make the right choices, and one of the things they choose is this particular soft drink.
I don’t think that’s a very accurate picture of the new generation in America. By and large, most young adults today in our upwardly mobile society don’t have the right answers. When it comes to the really big questions, I mean. Like where the earth came from, what we human beings are doing on it, and where we’re going when we leave it. They aren’t making the right choices—about what’s really valuable in life—what’s worth working hard to get. Many of their choices are confused and random. A better picture of the “new generation” might be of a child in the control room of a nuclear reactor, pushing buttons and pulling levers, and never knowing what the consequences might be.
Today’s text is about a young woman who, against all the odds, made a right choice. It’s about you, too, and the choices you make in life. Above all, though, it’s about God, and the choice that He made! God chose this young woman—and He has chosen you—to be His own. Our theme today is…
You know what a “Cinderella Story” is. That’s the term sports writers use to describe an athlete or team that overcomes terrifically high odds, and comes from behind to win the victory. When the local high school team defeats all the bigger schools and goes on to win the state championship, that’s a “Cinderella Story.” Well, the account of our text is a true story with a Cinderella ending. Just consider the odds that were stacked up against this young woman named Ruth. I think you’ll agree that her chances of having a successful life looked pretty slim!
First of all, Ruth got married to a foreigner. When Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, fled the poverty of draught-stricken Israel and came to the land of Moab, Ruth and her friend Orpah married their two sons. They were a poor family, struggling to stay alive. Soon disaster struck—Naomi’s husband died, and then her two sons as well. The three women were left widows. You have to remember: in those days there was no welfare, no social security. If a woman’s husband and provider died, she was in big trouble. Especially in hard times, starvation was a very real possibility! Things looked about as grim as they could be. It was time to make a hard decision, and Naomi decided to return to Judah.
And what about Ruth? What would her future be? She must have wondered about that every second of the day. She needn’t have been frightened, though. Because Ruth was a very special person. Ruth had been chosen by God! God had chosen this poor, humble woman from Moab to have an exciting and successful future. She couldn’t possibly imagine it yet, but she was to become a member of the royal line of the kings of Judah. She would be married to one of the wealthiest men of the one of best families of Bethlehem. Her grandson would be King David. One of her ancestors would be Jesus, the very Son of God—the promised Messiah! God had chosen humble Ruth to be His own.
It’s important for us to feel “chosen” and “special” too, isn’t it? Some of you probably went through the same experience I had when I was in grade school—the experience of waiting in line on the playground as two captains chose up sides for a game of basketball or touch football. I wanted so desperately to be chosen—not left out of the game or chosen last!
The good news is that God has chosen you. From the very beginning of eternity, God decided to pick you to be, in the words of Peter, one of “…a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, His own special people.” I Pet 2:9. He didn’t choose you because you were especially good—the Bible says that “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God.” He didn’t choose you because you were particularly strong or wise or noble. Actually, God called you to faith in Jesus in spite of the fact that you’re not any of those things! As Paul said, “You see your calling, brethren, that not may wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not may noble, are called. But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.” I Cor 1:26-28.
Like Ruth, God chose you for salvation simply because He loved you. He “elected” you to be a believer before time began. This Bible teaching is called the “Doctrine of Predestination,” and theologians have puzzled over it for centuries. I heard of an elderly woman, though, who said she understood it quite clearly. She said, “I know God must have chosen me before I was born, because considering the things I’ve done since then, I’m sure He wouldn’t have chosen me afterward!”
And contrary to what the TV evangelists will tell you, it is God who has chosen you—not the other way around! Jesus said to His disciples, “You did not choose Me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain…” Jn 15:16.
What is the “fruit” that we produce because God has chosen us? What is our natural reaction to the grace that God has granted us in Jesus Christ? Simply this: that we dedicate our lives to Him. In gratitude to God for choosing us, let us choose to serve God! Ruth did!
When Ruth became a member of that family of believers, she took on more than an new last name. She was taught to know a God who was different from all the idols she had grown up with. A God who cared for and governed His people. A God who promised to one day send a Redeemer who would pay for her sins, and the sins of all people. Ruth came to have faith in the Jehovah-God of Israel, and her faith brought forth fruits. She chose to serve God.
Both Orpah and Ruth loved Naomi, their mother-in-law. Both cried when Naomi said she was leaving. But Orpah finally kissed Naomi goodbye and went back to her people. Ruth clung to Naomi! “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.” Even Naomi underestimated the power of the Holy Spirit in Ruth’s heart! “Surely, she thought, Ruth will want to give up the true faith and go back to her own people and their idols—she can’t want to face such an uncertain future with me in the Land of Israel.” But Ruth wasn’t uncertain about her future. She had faith in Jehovah, and she wasn’t about to return to the false gods of Moab. Ruth replied, Ruth said, Entreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried.
For Ruth there was only one choice. She chose to follow the Lord, and that meant following Naomi on a weary journey of 75 miles back to Naomi’s hometown of Bethlehem. Ruth decided that this strange country would become her country, because it was the Lord’s country. A strange people would become her people, because they were the Lord’s people. She would serve Jehovah, the God of love, with her whole life, no matter what the consequences. It was courageous choice to make.
The Bible tells us of others who came to know God and made the same choice—to dedicate their lives to His service. Paul talks about Moses, who, “…when he became of age, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to suffer affliction with the people of God than to enjoy the passing pleasures of sin, esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than the treasures in Egypt; for he looked to the reward.” Heb 11:24-26. Joshua called on the people of Israel to choose who they would serve—the true God, or idols. He said, “If serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your forefathers served beyond the River, or the gods of the Ammorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” Josh 24:15.
What about you and your household? Whom will you serve? Have you chosen, or are you still making up your mind? I want to help you decide. I want to remind you of a few things—
Remember your Savior with a crown of thorns on his head, bent and bleeding under the cruel Roman whip. Remember Him struggling painfully toward Calvary, and stumbling to the pavement under the weight of the cross. Remember Him as the nails were driven home, metal clanging on metal, agony following agony. Yes, remember Him—because at that moment He was remembering you. He was loving you all the time! Your sins and my sins put Jesus on that cross. And when the life was finally gone from His body, our sins were gone as well.
My dear fellow-Christians, let us love Him as He first loved us! Let us choose to serve God. Jesus gave His whole life for us—will we give only a part of our lives to Him? No—let’s each of us resolve to serve our Savior seven days a week, with every fiber of our being! We are the reason Jesus lived—let’s make Him the reason we live! God chose to save us—let us choose to serve God! AMEN.
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All scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.