Outlook Standard Lesson for December 3, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Ruth 1
Being away from home is not easy. My mind works overtime trying to find similarities between my new environment and more familiar ones. When I lived in Charlotte, I would walk down Tryon Street and my brain would expect to see a river as if I were walking in Lower Manhattan. Living in Richmond now, I cannot help myself when I see how similar Carytown is to Smith Street in Brooklyn. Just last night, my dreams took me to Fulton Street in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. I could almost smell the roti and see the double-parked cars! Home has a way of being in your bones. In this sense, you can be home anywhere because you take home with you.
It is something more to find a home in a person. To know that wherever you go, whatever comes your way, you are not a stranger because that person, your person, goes with you. What does this do to our fear? Are we freed from fear because we know we have this security? Or is our anxiety raised at the possibility, even certainty, that one day we will lose this person? The great Maya Angelou reminds us that “Courage is the most important of all virtues because without courage you can’t practice any other virtue consistently.” Courage is never untethered from our principles. It reveals what we care about in a way that maps our core. Our text today leads us to think about the relationship between acts of courage and an undergirding hope.
As tantalizing as the idea of home can be, there is nowhere … like where God has called you.
Naomi, in the full grips of her despair, tells her daughters-in-law that the show is over. Everything is lost. In Ruth 1, Naomi renames herself Mara because “the Almighty has dealt bitterly with me” (v. 20). In Naomi’s estimation, she has nothing to provide these women. Her sons are gone and even if she could have more sons, Ruth and Orpah should not waste their lives waiting for them to grow up. What could possibly be in it for them? Naomi recommends that they cut their losses while she spends her days counting her losses.
Orpah immediately splits, but Ruth is not having it at all. Ruth is not saying, “We will figure it out” or leaving any room for her own personhood. Her agency is entirely invested in her unity with Naomi. Ruth steadfastly declares, “May the Lord do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you” (v.17).
This dedication to the journey parallels our journeys with God. Difficulties and tragedies have often made us feel like Naomi. Maybe we did not call ourselves “Mara,” but we called ourselves unlovable, unwanted, and unknown. Yet God clings to us tenaciously. Reminding us of Jesus’s promise to be with us “even until the end of the age” (Matthew 28). Our hope is not found in isolation from difficulty. It is found in God’s faithfulness to us throughout difficult times.
Gospel legend James Cleveland once sang, “I’ve come too far from where I started from. Nobody told me that the road would be easy, I don’t believe He brought me this far to leave me.” No matter what the situation looks like, do not give up. There is a love available to us that can turn what seems to be nothing into something worth living for.
There is a point in the journey where going back no longer is an option. A nexus point where turning back is far too costly. As tantalizing as the idea of home can be, there is nowhere like where you are supposed to be. Nowhere like where God has called you. Ruth saw nothing in her place of origin that felt like home more than being on this journey with Naomi and Naomi’s God. She asserts a sense of belonging with Naomi that dissolves her connections to her place of origin.
Ruth puts it all on the table, her memories, her culture, her rituals, and says none of these things are more important than what’s ahead. This is especially noteworthy when we consider that she has just lost her husband. In the midst of unspeakable loss, where the temptation to believe that everything is lost is most seductive, Ruth demonstrates tremendous hope. Hope that this tragedy will not unwrite her own story. Hope that there is more to be written, and more to be lived.
Ruth demonstrates tremendous hope. Hope that this tragedy will not unwrite her own story. Hope that there is more to be written, and more to be lived.
There is so much for us to learn from Ruth when difficulty arrives at our doorstep. We may think it is time to go it alone or to let relationships atrophy into mere formalities, but hope says hold on. Hope may compel us into unfamiliar places, where our social standing falls precipitously, but let us remember that God is still writing our story. A story where our hope will encounter God’s faithfulness.
Questions for discussion
- Where does your story intersect with Ruth and Naomi’s?
- How have you responded to commitment? Your own and the commitment of others?
- What is your hope in this particular moment?