Cameron Presbyterian Church engaged in a value-forming exercise at our Annual Congregational Meeting, and determined four values that will guide us in 2017: compassion & caring, faith, serving and support. Each Sunday in February, I will focus on one of these values.
February 26, 2017
Ruth 1:8-22, 4:13-17
Ruth 1:8-22, 4:13-17
8 Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.” Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.” 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 So Naomi said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”
16 But Ruth said,
“Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!”
18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
19 So the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them; and the women said, “Is this Naomi?” 20 She said to them,
“Call me no longer Naomi,
call me Mara [which means “Bitter”],
for the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me.
21 I went away full,
but the Lord has brought me back empty;
why call me Naomi
when the Lord has dealt harshly with me,
and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?”
22 So Naomi returned together with Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, who came back with her from the country of Moab. They came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed [which means “worshipper”]; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.
Sermon: “Our Values: Support”
The other night, I curled up with my chamomile tea and a novel, and began to unwind from the day in my favorite way. I’m reading a book called Ireland by Frank Delaney, and it is an inventive and incredible tale of that emerald isle. Like only happens with the best of books, I felt myself getting pulled in, as I read each paragraph with more speed than the last. Books are the best down time for me.
But, I’ll tell you a secret: we pastors don’t often get total down time. Though I was curled up with Fifi, tea and a book, a little part of my brain was doing what it does every week: ruminating on the coming text to preach on. And so, when I read a particular paragraph of my novel, I immediately stopped, wrote it down, and connected it with our Ruth story for today.
Here’s what was written, when describing an adventurous expedition by sea:
“We do well to remember dolphins. If a dolphin ails, then others come alongside and nudge him gently through the waters; because a dolphin must keep moving in order to keep breathing. We all have need of our dolphins alongside us from time to time.”
Now, I’ll be honest, I had no idea I’d be talking to you about dolphins today! But what a perfect description of our value of support: gently keeping one another moving so we can keep breathing. It’s easier said than done.
For Ruth, keeping her mother-in-law Naomi breathing after the loss of her son meant one word: clung. We hear that Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but not Ruth. Ruth clung to her. This Hebrew word is used rarely in the Old Testament, but nearly always it’s describing the way skin clings to bone. This is not holding hands; this is not a pat on the back; this is not an awkward half hug. No, Ruth clung to Naomi in her grief, like how our skin clings to our very bones, and she refused to let go.
Naomi, showing that common fear we have when we’re suffering (being a burden to others), told Ruth to go. Leave. Live her own life. But Ruth said no. She stayed with her, journeyed with her.
It’s a testament to the depths of Naomi’s grief that when she came to Bethlehem, sorrow had so etched its painful lines on her face that those who knew her best didn’t even recognize her. She was changed, not really able to keep breathing, and she named herself Bitter. But – and this really is the point of the whole story – she was not alone.
Ruth was her dolphin, nudging her, clinging to her, keeping her breathing. And then Boaz was their dolphin, feeding them, welcoming them, loving them. The women survived, and in this great fairy tale of the Bible, the same people who were shocked and didn’t recognize Naomi in her grief later gave her a new name: “blessed by God,” and named her grandchild “worshipper.”
We all need our dolphins, and you better believe Ruth needed Naomi just as much as Naomi needed her. That’s what makes life worth living: having someone, anyone, who needs our support.
Now, these past few weeks as I’ve preached on the values you chose for 2017 – compassion & caring, faith and service – I’ve usually ended those sermons somewhere along the lines of “now get out there and do something!” (We preachers don’t have that many new tricks, after all.)
But not today. Today, I’m not going to tell you all the ways you should be supporting each other. I’m not going to give you steps to cling to one another in times of sickness and sorrow.
Today, I simply want to say this, and for you to really hear it: you are so, so good at this. Churches four times our size try to create entire programs to replicate the sort of support our church organically gives, and it’s not the same. By the grace of God, this is your greatest gift as a church. You come to each other’s rescue. You cling to each other, like flesh clings to bones, and you don’t let go. Not when a scary diagnosis comes. Not when healing comes. Not when grief and sorrow come. Not when fear and loneliness come. Not when change and uncertainty come. You never let go.
Support isn’t just a value you put up on a white board at a meeting; support is who you are, with your every breath. I want us to own that. Celebrate it. Be grateful for this work of the Spirit among us. So, let’s do that now: I invite you to turn to a neighbor for just a couple of minutes and share a time you have been supported by this church. Or if you prefer, you may also sit and quietly think to yourself about when you felt supported here.
A Time of Sharing
There are plenty of ways to think about our church in terms of who we’re not, and if we’re honest, it’s sometimes much easier to dwell on the negative and do that. This year, I don’t want you to define yourself by who you’re not. I want you to rejoice in who you are: a family who supports each other, clings to one another like skin to bones, and keeps each other breathing even into life eternal.
And if someone ever asks you what Cameron Presbyterian Church is all about, just make them curious and say: “With God’s help, we are each other’s dolphins.” Amen.