30 Jul “Sweet Sorrow” Ruth 1:8-18
Rev. Peggy O’Connor
Date: July 30, 2017
Our sermon today is entitled “Sweet Sorrow”. It is meant to highlight the mixed bag of emotions that we all feel at times of transition and change. And of course, today is just such a time, as today is Katie Houts last day here at Pilgrim Church. In the next few days she will move to Salt Lake City Utah with her family. So, today is the last day she will be a part of our worship, offering her considerable musical talents to enrich and enliven our service. I chose this morning’s well-known passage from the book of Ruth this morning because it is about a moment of huge transition…a moment that requires a number of goodbyes…a moment filled with conflicting emotions.Naomi, who has lost her husband and both of her sons, her only children, has decided to leave Moab, the country she and her family moved to when Israel was besieged by drought decades earlier. Having heard that Israel is now prospering, she wants to go home. Her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth,decide they will go with her. But Naomi says no…go back to your mothers’ houses…remarry…have a good life. You were faithful to my sons and to me and so I pray that God will bless you. With that she kisses them and turns to go on…alone. But they protest…NO…we will go with you to your people.
Naomi repeats her plea for them to go home and Orpah, weeping, kisses her and goes. But Ruth does not go…she stays by Naomi’s side. So, Naomi urges her to follow Orpah and go back home. But Ruth, refusing to leave her, utters the famous words, spoken at so many weddings: “Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried”. We are inspired and touched by these 38 words. We love Ruth’s devotion and refusal to desert Naomi. We are almost disparaging of Orpah’s leaving. But in reality, this passage is all about leaving. No matter what decision Orpah or Ruth make, it involves parting and leaving someone. Each woman has to either leave home and country or Naomi, the woman they have lived and worked with for a long time. They have grown to love her as a mother. In this respect, Naomi’s instruction to go home to your mother is a reflection of the difficulty of the situation. For these women left their mothers long ago and no doubt have addressed Naomi as mother for as long. So, who was their mother at that moment? To choose one was to reject the other. The story highlights the almost impossible emotional juncture they all find themselves in as they stand in the road…to go or to stay…each involved starting a new life.This was a true fork in the road and only one path could be chosen. Both was not an option.
By and large, most of us do all we can to avoid such moments. We really do not want to come to such places…places that demand that we say goodbye to those we love no matter which way we turn. In such moments, all we see are the pain and loss that either choice will bring as both will require goodbyes. So, we avoid these times if we can. The problem with saying goodbye is that it entails change, which we relate to uncertainty…both of which are things most of us hate. We prefer certainty or its illusion which is predictability. We depend on things staying pretty much the same day to day. We depend on the people around us to stay the same, not just day to day, but year to year and decade to decade. If you disagree then go home and call your children and family to say that you are not going to celebrate Thanksgiving or Christmas this year but instead will be on a trip for both holidays. Or, announce that you want to change things up for both holidays…no green bean casserole and no Christmas tree. I guarantee that that you will get strong push back for either announcement. We are creatures of habit and we don’t like anyone to disturb our habits. So, we avoid rocking the boat and we do all we can to keep others from doing the same…all to avoid saying goodbye to the order of our lives…order and predictability we have come to expect…order and predictability that somehow we have come to believe we can control.