A Grandmother’s Legacy
Rev. Sandy Johnson
May 8, 2016
A friend of mine went on a vacation to the Middle East with most of his family, including his mother-in-law. During their vacation, and while they were visiting Jerusalem, his mother-in-law died. With the death certificate in hand, he went to the American Consulate Office to make arrangements to send the body back to the States for proper burial. The Consul, after hearing of the death of the mother-in-law, told him, “My friend, the sending of a body back to the States for burial is very, very expensive. It could cost as much as $5,000 dollars.” The Consul continued, “In most of these cases, the person responsible for the remains normally decides to bury the body here. This would only cost $150 dollars”.
My friend thought for some time, and answered the Consul, “I don’t care how much it will cost to send the body back. That’s what I want to do.” The Consul, after hearing this said, “You must have loved your mother-in-law very much, considering the difference in price between $5,000 and $150 dollars.”
“No, it’s not that,” he said. “You see, I know of a case many, many years ago of a person that was buried here in Jerusalem, and on the third day he was resurrected and I do not want to take that chance!”
This morning we acknowledge the blessings of mothers as we celebrate Mother’s Day. Although the society in which we live has made it a hugely commercial event with cards, flowers, and gifts. But as Christians I prefer we look to the bible for our inspiration when it comes to mothering, motherhood and mothers in general. There are many biblical mothers we can imitate. To begin with, we have the first mother, Eve who gave birth to Cain and Abel; then there is Sarah and Hagar, both parenting children from Abraham. Rebecca is the mail-order bride of Isaac and mother to twins, Esau and Jacob. In looking at our biblical mothers we can’t overlook Mary, the mother of Jesus and her contribution to our faith. This morning however, I want to share with you a different biblical story, a story of compassion, love and faithfulness. The story of Naomi and Ruth.
Our lesson this morning is one of appreciation and love, demonstrated by two remarkable women who didn’t allow societal boundaries to keep them from demonstrating God’s love in very practical ways. The story begins, scripture says, in the days when the judges ruled, believed to have been between 950 and 700 BCE. A man and his family left their homeland of Judah and set out to seek a better way of life, a more stable economy and place where they could flourish. It was risky to leave their home country but they had no choice if they wanted to live, so devastating was the famine in their homeland.
So Elimelech and his wife Naomi with their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion left Bethlehem behind and moved to Moab. The move proved difficult for them as Elimelech died shortly after their arrival. Naomi’s boys took Moabite women as their wives and they lived there peacefully for ten years. Tragically though, both of Naomi’s sons also died, leaving Orpah and Ruth, her daughter-in-law’s, widows at a young age.
What we aren’t told in scripture, but what we can piece together is that “intermingling with foreigners, especially Moabites, was considered an unfaithful act against God and it would lead surely, to death and sorry. Sweet Naomi was suffering the consequences of her husband and sons’ sins.” Some would say that they should never have moved to Moab and certainly shouldn’t have intermarried. The Torah considers the Moabites as Lot’s incestuous descendants, and no righteous Jew would marry into a Moabite family.
But here, Naomi, a Hebrew woman from Bethlehem, found herself poverty-stricken in a foreign land. Without her husband or her sons, there was virtually no hope for her survival. So Naomi decided she will return to Bethlehem, return to her homeland and trust that one of her male relatives would take her in, as was their custom. She told her daughter-in-law’s that they must return to their father’s home so that they can take new husbands. Her plan was a good one and Orpah does just that, she returned to Moab and left Ruth and Naomi on the road to Bethlehem. Orpah was sure that her chances for survival were greater than they would be as three penniless widows trying to stay together.
But Ruth is not so easily persuaded. She refused to leave Naomi and insisted in returning to Bethlehem with her. In doing so, Ruth and Naomi switch roles; now Ruth was the foreigner, despised by the locals and likely to be rejected by her new community. The scripture that Becky read to us this morning was in fact Ruth’s response to Naomi’s request to send her back to her family. Ruth refuses and lays her heart open to Naomi’s and pledges to stay by Naomi’s side, out of love and respect, until the day she dies.
“Ruth, the Moabite, is both an asset and a liability to the faithful Hebrew widow. She is an asset because of her ability to work and her companionship. But Ruth is also a liability because her people are despised by the Israelites. Her presence goes against the laws of purity and makes it difficult for Naomi to be restored in the eyes of society. Despite these risks, Naomi chooses to live with Ruth.” Despite knowing that she would be ritually unclean by living with Ruth, Naomi agrees to live together in Bethlehem.
The women arrived home in time for the barley harvest. Ruth received permission to glean the field, “a form of charity guaranteed the poor by Israelite law.” Those harvesting the barley left a swatch of grain around the edges of the field so that those who needed it could gather the leftovers and have something to eat. The field happened to be owned by Naomi’s relative, Boaz. “Boaz noticed the industrious young, foreign woman and made sure she was cared for during the barley and wheat harvests.”
Naomi got wind that Ruth has met Boaz and coached Ruth in how to get her man! Ruth went to Boaz that night at the threshing floor. Scripture doesn’t exactly say what happens but the result is that Boaz sent Ruth home in the morning with six measures of barley and ultimately a proposal of marriage, but not before a little drama is introduced.
Ruth’s husband owned property in Bethlehem. Since she was a widow her property would go to the next of kin who would then be required to marry Ruth. Boaz knew that there was another relative ahead of him and he approached this unnamed relative who initially wished to purchase the land. When he found out that the land came with Ruth, a Moabite woman, he declined the offer, leaving the way open for Boaz to not only marry Ruth but redeem Elimelech.
Boaz and Ruth were married and were blessed with a son, Obed. This baby Obed grew up and became the father of Jesse, who was the father of David who became king. This baby was Kind David’s grandfather. God has an interesting way of bringing foreigners together for his divine purpose. He demonstrates in this story the need for us to think outside of the box and recognize that included in Jesus ancestral line was this interracial couple and that God was pleased.
We see with Ruth a woman who is the model of faithfulness and God’s self-giving love. She willingly gave up her pagan ways and joined Naomi in traveling to Bethlehem, forsaking her upbringing to embrace Naomi’s traditions and ultimately to worship Naomi’s God. Ruth’s love toward Naomi “reveals that God’s presence dwells in Ruth because she is the one who bears witness to a love that overflows the boundaries of social, religious, and economic norms. God’s revelation circumvents the Jews and touches Ruth directly, for it is Ruth the foreigner who has the courage to risk everything for the sake of love; not Naomi, the sweet, faithful Jew.”
The story of Ruth and Naomi is a story of love in an unconventional family. Two women who had no lasting tie to one another decided to cling together and regardless of their future prospects they agree to look out for one another. Ruth risks her life in staying with Naomi out of respect and love for her. This is the model of motherly love that I wish to highlight this Mother’s Day.
Being a biological mother isn’t what makes a great mother. It is genuine love and compassion for another that elevates a woman from ordinary to extraordinary. The familial relationship between these two women is one that we can model today. Regardless of race, religion, socio-economic status, sexual orientation, gender, nationality, or any other segment of who we are, that likely keeps us divided, we must see one another as God see us, as his children.
As God’s children we are to behave lovingly and compassionately toward one another. We are called to don the “god glasses” that allow us to see one another through the lens that God sees, to see the good in all of us and to allow us to esteem all of God’s children, not only those we deem worthy. We are to be the epitome of mother to one another and to leave a lasting legacy of love. In leaving a legacy we must dig deeper and recognize the brokenness in each of us and accept each other just as we are.
I want to close with this poem, a prayer really that speaks what God has put on my heart this morning: Hear these closing words by Amy Young:
Beyond the surface of mothering
Forgive us when we assume that what we see on the surface is all there is to your story. We know in our midst there are women and mothers who:
Like Eve, have children with serious rivalry.
Like Hagar, have been discarded for a new family and are mothering alone.
Like Naomi, have tasted the bitterness of a child’s death.
Like the mother of Leah and Rachel, knows what it’s like to have one child favored over another by society.
Like Hannah, have been separated from your child at a young age.
Like Mary, have a complicated pregnancy story or
Like Tamar, have tried multiple ways to become a mother or
Like Rachel, have counted the months and years while other women in your family and circle of friends become pregnant.
Who like Rebekah, are drawn to one of your children more than the others.
Like David’s mother, is raising children after God’s heart and though you rejoice in watching them, don’t want to rub it in friends’ faces.
Like Ham’s mother have children whose substance abuse can cause problems.
Like Bathsheba, have sick children who may die.
Like Joseph and Benjamin, experienced the death of their mother.
Like Mary, have children with public legal situations and all you can do is watch.
Like the Shunammite woman when told by Elisha she would become pregnant, replied, “No, please do not mislead your servant!” Like her, not wanting to open doors to hope, only to have them slammed in your face.
Like Hannah, have known the provoking of a family member.
Like many, watched their mothers age and waste before their eyes.
Like Moses’ mother, reluctantly gave up her child because it wasn’t safe for you to bring her child up herself. Or
Who like Pharaoh’s daughter, were called to love and nurture children that weren’t yours by birth.
Like Timothy’s mother and grandmother, are steadily and without much fanfare or recognition teaching your children about the truths of God, sowing seeds for eternity.
Like the unnamed women who never quite fit into the norms of society, either never marrying or having children, yet wanting to.
You are in our midst.
We are called to be a people who rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn. Today our stage is big enough to do both.
For the seen and known joys of motherhood, we rejoice and smile and celebrate with you. For the seen and known suffering in motherhood, we ache with you.
For the private unseen and unknown joys of motherhood, like Mary, may you treasure them in your hearts. And for the private unseen and unknown sorrows and suffering of motherhood, may you know you don’t always have to be happy in our midst.
You are engraved on the palms of God, both the seen and unseen, held together by Him.
 http://motherinlawstories.com/mother-in-law_jokes_page.htm Accessed May 7, 2016
 http://www.ministrymatters.com/reader/9781426758805/#chapter05.html!ch5 Accessed May 4, 2016