Good Morning…Let’s pray…
The other day, my friend was telling me about her grandparents who she was recently visiting. She was remarking on how blessed they’ve both been with such good health over the years and she was impressed at how mentally sharp they still are. Whenever she leaves from her visits, they find it hard to say goodbye. Her grandparents often get a sad look in their eyes and make sure to tell her that this could be the last time she sees them. Now she recognizes that that may be true given their age but apparently this has been going on for twenty plus years and so it’s become a bit of “joke” so to speak in her family. Still for her grandparents the feeling is very real. When they say to her, this may be the last time we see you, they’re very serious and she takes it more seriously now than she did twenty years ago. The older they get, the more they question their time and even value in this world.
One of this morning’s readings was taken from the Bible’s book of Ruth. In this first chapter we read about three women; Naomi, Orpah and Ruth. Naomi, being the oldest of the three, feels like my friend’s grandparents. She feels too old to be able to offer her younger daughters-in-law anything of value. Now she has good reason to feel this way…she has just lost everything and her future is very uncertain. In fact, each of these women has suffered a great loss. Their husbands have all died and Moab, the place where they are living, is experiencing a famine. They are empty and alone.
Naomi has heard that the famine is over in her homeland of Bethlehem and that the Lord is providing food for her people there. So she has decided to go back and spend the remaining years of her life there. Ruth and Orpah, whose homeland is Moab, decide to be loyal to Naomi and go with her to Bethlehem.
This is not a light decision for these woman. In this culture, to be a widow is considered a very serious situation…they would be seen as having no security and very needy. The custom would have been for Ruth and Orpah to marry their husband’s brother, who would then be responsible for them and continuing the family name. But in the case of Ruth and Orpah, all the men in this immediate family have died. So by returning to Naomi’s homeland, these women are essentially choosing to end the family line. They are putting their future in the hands of Naomi and sadly this future doesn’t look very promising.
Overcome with grief, Naomi feels empty, alone and scorned by God. She insists that she has nothing to offer her daughters-in-law. She strongly urges them to return home, back to Moab, where they have a chance to remarry and rebuild their futures.
Have you ever felt this way? Do you resonate with any of these three women in our story today? This idea that we have nothing to offer in our times of brokenness really struck me this week. Although it was true that Naomi was too old to have children and obvious that she would not be able to give Orpah or Ruth another husband. Is it true that she had nothing to offer them? Is it true that in our brokenness we have nothing to offer someone else?
After pleading with her daughters-in-law Orpah obeys Naomi’s wishes and returns to her homeland of Moab. We don’t hear anything about Orpah again in the book of Ruth, but presumably she returned to her family and remarried. Ruth on the other hand does something quite extraordinary - she doesn’t turn back but rather clings to her mother-in-law refusing to leave her.
We see in this story one of the most beautiful moments of commitment as Ruth puts her future in the hands of Naomi. In making a commitment to Naomi, Ruth is also confessing allegiance to God. Ruth decides to leave her homeland to go to a land of promise, where we have heard the Lord is. Ruth is so sure of her decision that she even asks Israel’s God to deal with her if she should break this commitment. At this point, Naomi has no choice but to accept this blessing.
Although Naomi feels she has nothing to offer Ruth, God knows otherwise – which is often the case. God is always working behind the scenes for the good of His people.
In Naomi’s turning towards where she has heard the Lord is, she has opened a door for Ruth, a foreigner, a Moabite to come to know God. And without even knowing it, Ruth has done something very profound. She is being obedient to God in her commitment to Naomi. Naomi didn’t make it easy, but through Naomi, Ruth comes to know and follow God. Through a time of deep brokenness and pain, both Ruth and Naomi experience God’s blessings…although they don’t quite know it yet.
We as the readers, someone looking in from the outside, we are able to see how God is working in the lives of these women. But as a character in this narrative God is veiled for the most part; he doesn’t stand out as the main character that is guiding and directing the story.
In our own stories, our own life narratives, it may often seem like God is veiled. It may not seem that He is actively present. You may not be able to see or understand the blessings He has prepared for you. And this can be especially true when we are in the thick of life’s brokenness and pain. Often it’s in those times that we ask, when we cry out, where are you God?
Thankfully God is faithful. Thankfully God is a God of mercy and grace. He doesn’t shy away from brokenness but rather He embraces it and works through it for the good of His people. And the heart of God extends to All people. He can work through anyone, anywhere and at anytime. As followers of God, there is never a time when we don’t have something to offer this world and those around us.
If we believe that God can work through us, even in our times of brokenness then it stands to reason that He may also work through another person’s brokenness too and He may do that to try and reach us…to try and reach you. Do you trust God to work through broken people? If you were in Ruth’s position, would you follow Naomi? I’m not sure I would. I think it’s easy to dismiss those who seem to be worse off than ourselves or who seem to have very little to offer. But it shouldn’t come as a surprise that God works out his plans and blessings through brokenness – should it?
God Himself came to this earth in the form of a small child, born in a stable. Jesus’ life starts and ends with suffering. Jesus associated with the outcasts of this world and says himself, “For I have not come to call the righteous but the sinners.” God knows brokenness. God works and moves and lives out his plan for goodness through our brokenness…and he does this out of his love for us.
By the end of the book of Ruth, Ruth marries a man named Boaz, who was related to Naomi’s late husband. They are blessed with a son, a baby boy to carry on the family name. In fact, Ruth becomes the great-grandmother to King David – which means God begins the family line of Jesus through Ruth and Boaz.
In this story and many other stories both in the Bible and in the world we live in today we see how God works through times of brokenness. And this morning we have the privilege of hearing one these stories…At this time Janis is going to share her story with us…about a time when God used her. Thank you, Janis.
MY STORY (Janis Barker)
My story started in the late 80’s early 90’s.
At a time in my life when I personally was in a difficult place—now a single parent in the midst of separation and divorce. A time when I felt I personally needed lots of help, encouragement and support.
I met a women at Tuesday Morning Bible Study who’s daughter became my night time babysitter. I lost touch with this young girl after a few years until now. On July 8 I got a friend request on face book and then this private message.
WELCOME JANIS BARKER...I’M SO GLAD WE’RE BOTH STILL HERE SO I CAN SAY THIS...I BABYSAT FOR YOU AT AGE 12 FOR 5 YEARS...FOR MY 16TH BIRTHDAY YOU GAVE ME MY FIRST GROWN UP BIBLE...I MUST SAY IT HAS BECOME WELL HIGHLIGHTED IN THE LAST 10 YEARS...YOUR HOME WAS A REFUGE IN A ‘TURBULENT’ CHILDHOOD...YOU VALIDATED MY RIGHT THINKING THAT WHAT ADULTS SAY AND DO WAS NOT ALWAYS RIGHT OR HEALTHY...YOU WERE ONE OF MY FIRST EXAMPLES OF A STRONG WOMAN...YOU ALWAYS SPOKE TO THE GOOD IN ME WHICH STRENGTHENED AND ENCOURAGED ME FOR MY JOURNEY THEN...AND WHAT I LEARNED TO GIVE OTHERS NOW...I HOPE IN THIS SMALL WAY YOU WILL KNOW GREATLY, HOW LIKE THIS BIBLE, YOU BROUGHT ME MUCH COMFORT, DISCERNMENT, AND PEACE IN THIS LIFE...I WILL ALWAYS BE GRATEFUL FOR HAVING KNOWN YOUR FRIENDSHIP, CARE AND CONCERN FOR ME. THANK YOU, MY FRIEND, ALWAYS...ANNIE
Even when we think we have nothing to give God uses us for the good of His people. This message has had a tremendous impact on me. I didn’t know that God had used me in this way. He can use all of us...this could be your story too.
Just because you don’t get a typed message doesn’t mean you haven’t impacted others or that God hasn’t used you in a profound way.