Sunday’s sermon: The Look and Feel of Love

love

Texts used – Ruth 1:1-18; Mark 12:28-34

  • Orpah. Ruth. A scribe. And Jesus. An interesting cast of characters for our Scripture readings this morning, right? We have an embittered widow, two foreign wives of Israelite men, a religious man whose profession required him to spend all day focused on the rules, and the Messiah. What could this ragamuffin group possibly have to teach us about the light of God’s love in our lives? Well … I’m glad you asked.
  • Let’s start with the passage from Ruth.
    • First, we meet Naomi.
      • Lived a tough life
        • Left her homeland because she and her family were starving → move to a hostile land
          • Relations btwn Judah and Moab = always contentious
        • And to make matters worse, after moving to Moab, Ruth’s two sons decide to take Moabite wives. → serious transgression for Jewish men at the time
          • Deut: Don’t intermarry with [outside nations]. Don’t give your daughters to one of their sons to marry, and don’t take one of their daughters to marry your son, because they will turn your child away from following me so that they end up serving other gods. That will make the Lord’s anger burn against you, and he will quickly annihilate you.[1]
        • Within a span of 10 yrs., husband and both sons die → Now, I want to make it clear what a terrible position this leaves Naomi in.
          • Status of widows = non-existent, zero rights/privileges/property of their own → women in ancient Is. had to have a male relative to take care of them or their only option would be begging on the street
        • In desperation, finally heads back to Bethlehem with daughters-in-law → But part of the way back, Naomi stops. In her darkest hour, when she herself is desperate for comfort, support, and love, Naomi realizes that Orpah’s and Ruth’s best chance at a good life is back in Moab. So despite her own time of need – or maybe because of it – Ruth tries to convince her daughters-in-law to turn back for their own good.
          • Text: Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the LORD deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the LORD provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. [2]
      • In this selfless act, we see the power of Naomi’s love → sacrificing love
        • Scholar explains: [Naomi] seeks a place of settled security for [her daughters-in-law]. This word … means “settled down” after movement or wandering. … In essence, it connotes permanence, settlement, security, and freedom from anxiety after wandering, uncertainty, and pain.[3] → This is Naomi’s wish. When Naomi says, “May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security,” this is what she wants for her daughters-in-law: this permanence, this comfort and security, this settled circumstance after hardship and pain.
        • And this is the kind of love that God has for us – a love great enough that God willingly came to earth to live and love and die and rise again as Christ. And isn’t this also the kind of love that we aim to have for those we care about? A love that would move mountains, dry tears, and shatter fears no matter the cost to ourselves?
          • E.g. – story of Dave learning to walk and falling down the basement stairs → Dad swinging his leg out to catch him before he hit the cement basement floor and ending up with a broken toe
    • Next, we encounter Orpah.
      • Sometimes gets a bad rap – she turns and leaves when Ruth stays → But there’s actually an important lesson we can learn from Orpah, too. You see, Orpah’s love is an obedient love. It’s a love that obeys, a love that follows, a love that is devoted.
        • 10 commandments kind of love – Honor your father and your mother, exactly as the Lord your God requires.[4]
        • Remember, Naomi wasn’t the only one weeping at their parting. Orpah also wept. But she does what Naomi asks because Orpah is being faithful. I don’t believe she wanted to leave any more than Ruth, but her obedient love for her mother-in-law led her to turn back. In this love, we find reverence and humility. I wonder what our lives might be like if we showed God this kind of devoted, faithful love?
    • Finally, we come to Ruth.
      • Ruth’s love = also devoted → But unlike Orpah’s obedient devotion, Ruth’s is a involved devotion.
        • Ill. in her own speech: “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. 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.”[5]
          • To be sure, not a form of love without its struggles – scholar points out: There is a unique attribute to the Hebrew [word] “to [stay],” … the [staying] here [indicates] a place of discomfort, laden with complaints or bitterness.[6] → So this staying that Ruth is committing to is no picnic. Ruth knows that following Naomi is going to be difficult. She’s aware of the Israelite’s prejudices toward her people. She understands that she’ll be shunned and taunted, mistreated and distrusted. And still … she clings to Naomi.
            • Powerful form of love that can see us through darkest of times – pain, loss, fear, doubt, anxiety
            • Reminds me of devotion you hear in weddings vows: For better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, so long as we both shall live.
    • Important Heb. word woven throughout this passage: hesed – steadfast love, trustworthy love, love full of faithfulness and grace
      • Kind of love that pops up time and again in psalms
        • E.g. – Give thanks to the LORD because he is good. God’s faithful love (hesed) lasts forever! Give thanks to the God of all gods— God’s faithful love (hesed) lasts forever. Give thanks to the Lord of all lords— God’s faithful love (hesed) lasts forever.[7]
      • This is the kind of love that God has for us. This is the kind of love that we are made to have for God. And like Naomi, Orpah and Ruth, this is the kind of love that should be reflected in all our relationships.
  • This is the message that we encounter in our New Testament passage for this morning, too.
    • Need to grasp just what an odd situation we find Jesus in in this story → remember, along with Pharisees, scribes were the ones always getting on Jesus’ case – It was the scribes and Pharisees who …
      • Trying to trip up his teachings by incessantly citing the law
      • Trying to keep him from healing on the Sabbath
      • Eventually demand that Jesus be crucified
      • And yet today, we witness this strange encounter – this unexpected peace between opposing sides → not only civil to each other but actually in agreement with one another
        • Scholar: The exchange between Jesus and the scribe becomes itself something of an illustration of the Great Commandment. Even though the exchange occurs in the middle of a dispute, … Jesus and the scribe are able to … join together in the conviction that there is no commandment greater than love of God and neighbor. … Both the scribe and Jesus have stepped away from the “us” versus “them” categories.[8]
    • In the scribe, we actually see an open-minded and respectful love.
      • Right off the bat, this scribe admits that Jesus has answered his companions’ protest and accusations well – no small words coming from one of Jesus’ most zealous and forceful critics. → text: One of the legal experts heard their dispute and saw how well Jesus answered them. He came over and asked him, “Which commandment is the most important of all?”[9]
        • Answer that has become quite familiar to us: You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, You will love your neighbor as yourself. No other commandment is greater than these.[10]
          • Implies that we are to put our whole selves into this love → not always easy, especially when our views don’t exactly line up with our neighbors
        • Scriptural e.g. → Ruth and Orpah’s love for Naomi and her love for them
          • Moabite women clinging to their Israelite mother-in-law
          • Israelite mother-in-law weeping at having to be parted from her Moabite daughters-in-law
          • Labels didn’t matter → love did!
        • Recent real-world e.g. of this in an unlikely place → response to shooting at Tree of Life synagogue last weekend
          • People all across the country standing in solidarity with Jewish friends, neighbors, co-workers, and strangers against such a horrible, hateful act
          • Greatest amount of money that was raised to help Tree of Life Synagogue and the Jewish community that it serves was raised by the local Muslim community in Pittsburgh→ This might be surprising when we think of the tensions between Jews and Muslims in the Middle East – tensions that have simmered and raged for centuries – and yet the Muslim community in Pittsburgh showed up en force for their Jewish neighbors.
            • Finding love even in the midst of stark differences and historical tensions
            • Truly inspiring e.g. of how we should treat our neighbor
          • Also an apt reminder for how we approach God → come as the scribe before the Messiah – thoughtfully, respectfully, open to teaching and guidance
      • There is incredible power and encouragement, love and acceptance, forgiveness and grace in this kind of love. It is an all-encompassing love.
        • Gr. “love” in this passage is agape love – that special, generous, other-focused love
          • Scholar – what this means in terms of our neighbors: To love my neighbor agapically requires that I recognize my neighbor as one who is irreducibly valued. Agape toward the neighbor enjoins that we love our neighbor even when our neighbor refuses to reciprocate.[11]
    • You see, all of this – the sacrifice, obedience, desperation, open-mindedness, and guidance – this is the core of the love that God gives freely to each and every one of us. It is this great love that should inspire us each day to draw closer and closer to God. And it is on this supreme love that we should base all other loves in our live.
      • Crucial reminder in our exceptionally divisive political climate today
      • Especially crucial on the cusp of an election when the rhetoric and the mud are flying fast and hard
    • So this morning, I want to leave you with a question: How can we embody this kind of love in our lives? In our congregation, our communities, our denomination, our families, our workplaces? How can we be the heart and soul and mind and strength of God’s love in the lives of those around us, especially in the lives of those who differ from us? Amen.

[1] Deut 7:3-4.

[2] Ruth 1:8-9.

[3] Robert L. Hubbard, Jr. The Book of Ruth. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1988), 105.

[4] Deut 5:16a.

[5] Ruth 1:16-17a.

[6] John Ahn. “Proper 26 (Sunday between October 30 and November 5 inclusive) – Ruth 1:1-18, Exegetical Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 247.

[7] Ps 136:1-3 (hesed added).

[8] Pheme Perkins. “Mark: Introduction, Commentary, and Reflections” in The New Interpreter’s Bible Commentary series, vol. 8. (Nashville, TN: Abingdon Press, 1995). 679.

[9] Mk 12:28.

[10] Mk 12:30-31.

[11] Victor McCracken. “Proper 26 (Sunday between October 30 and November 5 inclusive) – Mark 12:28-34, Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Word: Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, Year B, vol. 4. (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2011), 262 (emphasis added).

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