October 31, 2021
Our scripture passage for this morning is the opening chapter in the story of Ruth. Listen for God’s Word as it speaks to you today.
Now I know what you’re thinking… “What does the story of Ruth have to do with EarthCare? Wouldn’t it have been smarter for me to change the scripture passage today to something that was more… you know… EarthCare appropriate?” I know you’re asking it… because I asked myself the very same question this week. And it’s true, I chose to preach on this lectionary passage months ago… even before the EarthCare committee asked if we could take this 5th Sunday in October and focus on this aspect of our common ministry here at Parkway. Changing the passage would have been the smart thing to do… meaning the easier thing to do. But not necessarily the right thing to do.
So let’s think a bit and see if we can find what this opening to Ruth has to say to us today about EarthCare.
When I think about Ruth… when I think about what makes her a hero of faith… this is the part of the story I think of… the beginning of the story. It’s this choice she makes right here… the choice to stay with Naomi. That is what distinguishes her. That’s the aspect of character we hold up as a role model.
The story begins as there is a major shift in their world of that day and time from plenty to famine. The story doesn’t go into detail about the cause of the famine, but it being an agricultural dependent time it is not too hard to surmise that weather conditions most likely changed. Maybe it was drought. Maybe it was too much rain. Maybe it was that wild and weird hailstorm that destroyed too many crops right at harvest time. We don’t know. But the effects of whatever did happen led to famine in the land… and Elimelech and his family became famine driven refugees… going to Moab… leaving their home behind to find what they needed in order to survive. As climate patterns shift… as weather events become more intense… as predictability fades in the weather shifts that are occurring in our day and time… it’s very likely that we will see more and more families like Elimelech’s across the globe… climate change refugees having to leave their homes behind. Maybe because of drought. Maybe because of increased heat. Maybe because of rising water levels. Maybe it was a series of more intense tornados or hurricanes that may create famine conditions… may make it so difficult that in order to survive they will have to leave their home behind.
While again the story itself is quiet about it, this family must cross the border into Moab. For our times, I think we are very aware of the politics of refugees crossing borders… when we have large populations having to move because of our human created problems of war and economics. Climate will enter into that mix. I mean, what happens when the complaints and fear of people crossing borders changes from “they’re taking our jobs” to “they’re using up all our water?” Can you imagine that day coming? Can you imagine a water famine and what will happen as that moves more and more out of our imaginations and becomes a present day reality? Saw a headline this morning about two towns in California. One town was forced by the state to share its water with another town that had run out of water. It’s a story that is more prevalent than what we are experiencing here on the East coast.
Elimelech’s family crosses the border into Moab… and trust me when I tell you the Bible does not have good things to say about Moab or its people… preserving all too well our ongoing fear of the foreigner. Except here there is the twist that it is Elimelech’s family who… by scriptural standards… should not like the people he is forced to go live among. He becomes the feared foreigner. So later when Naomi’s sons later take two Moabite women to be their wives… not good. Like this whole introduction, it sounds like these choices are being made out of necessity… a family doing the best they can and making the choices they have to make at the time to survive and try to thrive. That’s so relatable isn’t it. Making choices. Sacrifices. Stepping away from “how it ought to be” to “how it really is”. Navigating life. It doesn’t change no matter the time or place.
The beginning of this story is about tension and stress. There is nothing idealized about it. And then comes the death of Elimelech… and his two sons… and now we have three widows who must navigate a whole new world that socially… culturally… may not be kind or welcoming. They live in a man’s world and their value is only in their connection to a man be it either a husband or a male relative. And it is going to be hardest on Naomi. She is too old to believe she is going to be married again. She is past her childbearing years. Everything that made her valuable in that society is now buried in the ground. And Naomi is acutely aware of this. That’s why she encourages her daughters-in-law to leave her… to go back to their people. They still have a good chance to remarry… to have children… to be valuable. It’s the smart choice. It’s the choice that makes the most sense in the moment.
So why don’t we praise Orpah for making the smart choice? Why isn’t she the hero of the story?
Why do we hold up instead Ruth… Ruth... for clinging to old Naomi? That’s not the smart choice for her to make. “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” We admire those words even though it means she is attaching herself to a woman who really has no future except what she might receive at the charity of a male family member. Ruth will now be a Moab among Jews, the foreigner in a foreign land. Her caring for Naomi will make her life harder than it needs to be… harder than it would be if she would just follow the smart choice like Orpah and return to her people.
Ruth makes the harder choice because she cares about Naomi. And we celebrate her for that reason. We believe and uphold that that was the right choice. And Saints, that right there is what Ruth has to say to us today about EarthCare. Not to be cold, but most of what is coming with climate change will not impact most people within this room. Most of us will possibly not see the worst come to pass. I’ll be blessed if I have another thirty years of life. I’m sure I will witness some things because of climate change, but probably not like my children in their lifetime… or especially my grandchildren should I have some one day. If things don’t change… if our sense of making changes doesn’t increase in urgency… they will be the ones who will pay the price. All this change and decisions we are being called on to make… changes that are going to make things more inconvenient, more expensive, harder for us in so many ways… all those changes and decisions that in the moment don’t seem like the smart choice… those will be our Ruth decisions. Ruth decisions where we attach ourselves fully to a generation that hasn’t even been born yet. These will be decisions where we will have to care more about generations to come than we do about ourselves. And that is so so so difficult for us.
But again… for me… that’s the crux of EarthCare and why it is such an important ministry for us to participate in this day and time. It’s not the technical solutions that we will participate in that will make the biggest impact… it’s the change in caring… it’s the piece of our faith that carries a vision for the Kingdom of God… a world infused with God’s gracious presence… a world we can only experience through making the hard but right choices… because those choices focus us on the greater human community and not just on what is smart for ourselves in our time and in our place. Why is Ruth the hero of this story? She makes sacrifices for the sake of Naomi… sacrifices that spring from love. You can’t tell the Christian story without sacrifices that spring from love. You can’t live the Christian story without sacrifices that spring from love. And Saints, you can’t pass on the Christian story without sacrifices that spring from love. Amen.