The Reverend Elizabeth Bowyer

Readings for All Saints’ Sunday, Nov.2, 2015

This morning our reading from the ancient Hebrew texts offers an extraordinary story about a family who survives famine, dislocation and death.  It is also a story about loyalty, faithfulness and commitment in the midst of tremendous upheaval and loss of identity.  Listen for how this extraordinary story of hardship and family life might connect with your own experiences of family.

Reading from the book of Ruth adapted from a story taken from Eugene Peterson’s, The Message, The Bible in Contemporary Language, Chapter 1, verses 1-18 “Ruth goes with Naomi”

‘Back in the days when judges led Israel, there was a famine in the land. 

A man with longstanding roots in Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, the southern kingdom of Israel, felt he must leave home to live in the country of Moab.

Moab was located in the eastern regions of the Dead Sea.

The man took with him, his wife and his two sons. 

The man’s name was Elimelech (el-ih-ma-leck), his wife’s name was Naomi, and his sons were called Mahlon and Kilion.  

Together the four travelled to the country of Moab (Mo-ab) and settled there.

Some years later, Elimelech, the husband, suddenly died. 

This left his wife, Naomi and their two sons in a very vulnerable position.

When time was right, his wife, Naomi’s two sons grew to be men.

They took for themselves wives who were from the land where they were settled.  They were Moabite (Mo-ah-byte) women.

The first son’s wife was named Orpah and the second son’s wife was named Ruth. 

About ten years later, the same thing happened to Orpah and and Ruth as had happened to Naomi years earlier.

The two sons died.

Once again they were destitute-three vulnerable women-two young widows and an older one.

Life was exceedingly difficult for them. So it was that Naomi, the mother-in-law decided she must return to Bethlehem. 

She made this decision based on her understanding that, there, God provided for God’s people.  She had even heard in the fiels of Moab that her God, the God of Israel provided for the most basic needs and wants such as food and shelter. 

As a widow with two widowed daughters this is what they needed most, the security of food and shelter.

And so it was that Naomi, at a mature age, decided to return to Bethlehem.

This time, she had no husband and no sons travelling with her. 

Instead she had only two daughter’s in laws travelling alongside. 

After a short while on the road together, Naomi decided it best that Orpah and Ruth should go back to their own mothers. 

She told them this: ‘You must go back to Moab where you will have the best chance for God to give each of you a new home and a new husband!’

And so it was, she kissed them gently and they all cried together at the truth of this and at the thought of parting.

For their perspective, Orpah and Ruth couldn’t even imagine Naomi travelling on alone.  They told her: ‘We can’t do this.  We want to go with you to see you safely to your own people.’

For her part, Naomi thought this made no sense: ‘I want you to go back where you belong’ she said.

In some frustration she added:

‘Do you think I can produce sons that you might have future husbands? 

No, dear daughters, I am too old to get a new husband.  

Even if it was possible, I cannot become a mother again, and produce sons who would eventually become old enough to be husbands for you. 

No, dear daughters, we are out of time. 

It is a bitter pill for me to swallow to send you back, but I must. 

God has dealt us a hard blow, but, you must go back. 

Return to your own mothers and your own gods in Moab, my dear daughters. 

The three women wept together openly at the truth of this hard decision.

However, each of the daughters’ in law responded differently.

Orpah, for her part, accepted what Naomi wanted. 

Ruth, on the other hand, flatly refused.

Despite Naomi’s protests, Ruth clung to her saying: 

‘Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. 

Where you go, I will go with you.  Where you live, I will live. 

Your people are mine also. Your God is my God.

Where you die, I will die.  Where you are buried, so also I will be buried.

So help me-God!   Not even death is going to come between us.’

Here ends our first reading from the Book of Ruth this morning. 

May its poignancy and its truth inform our own faith response to our needs for security and faithful living in the midst of hardship and loss. Amen.

“Responsive Hymn: More Voices #216 Wherever You May Go

Our gospel reading from this morning comes to us from the author of the Book of Mark.  It follows on from a series of public conversations between Jesus and the the religious elite, the Saduccees, a group determined to question the authority of Jesus’ teachings. 

Listen for how the mutual Jesus’ conversation between Jesus and the priest is impactful and how it might touch your own heart as Jesus answers the question: Which commandment is the first of all? 

A reading from the New Standard Revised version of gospel according to Mark, Chapter 12, verses 28-34:

One 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?” Jesus answered, “the first is,

‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 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.’ 

The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ 

There is no other commandment greater than these.”

Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘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.”

 When 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.

The Word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God, amen.