The Mixed Up Family (8:30am)
Topic: Lineage & Diversity Scripture: Ruth 1:1–1:5, Ruth 1:6–1:18
Some friends did an ancestry search using DNA. One of the couples is northern European, but was surprised to find percentage of Asian and a scattering of Neanderthal. The human family is a real mixture. Racial supremacists live in a fantasy world with no basis in reality. We are a genetic mishmash, traceable to a common ancestor.
In considering the question, “Who is My Neighbor?” we are thinking about family as neighbor today. Families sometimes bring the most surprising people together. The “other” becomes familiar and beloved. Marriages and adoptions unite people across racial and religious lines. Those who might once have been thought of as foreigners now live in homes together and share meals together and celebrate grandchildren. Some white Christian families who have adopted children from Africa gain new understanding of racial prejudice by what their children go through. They become vigilant to protect and love their kids.
The beautiful Old Testament book of Ruth begins with a family happy and secure in their hometown - Bethlehem. The family of Naomi and Elimelech were rooted in place. Their forebears might have inhabited this same region for decades or even centuries. This was home. But, stuff happens. We might not have signed up for some of it…but it happens. In the stark words of our passage, “there was a famine in the land.” That brief verse describes a world of suffering…children crying in the night for food, distended bellies, despair. The land flowing with milk and honey flowed instead with the tears of families parting, embracing each other perhaps for the last time as they went their separate ways. Theirs was a tragic journey to an unknown future in a strange land.
What did our refugees find when they got to Moab? Some who said, no doubt, “We don’t want you here. Keep moving.” Yet there must have been some who welcomed them, or they would never have survived. It says, “They went into the country of Moab and remained there.”
Without local people reaching out to help they could not remain there. Last week the people of Temple Am Shalom in Glencoe, IL, welcomed several families of Syrian refugees just before the ban went into effect. They created an extra warm welcome mindful of what they had been through, and embraced their new neighbors as friends and family.
The family of Naomi and Elimelich were glad to find a new country. Soon enough, Dad passed away. At least the two sons were there, and they found wives, and it seemed Naomi’s future was secure. Then both sons died. This was a disaster for all three women. With no male to protect and provide for them, they were vulnerable to poverty and violence.
Yet, a new and redemptive dynamic is at work here. The hand of God is present even through tragedy. By this time, the women had become true neighbors and friends. Naomi and Ruth in particular had become inseparable. The “other” was now loved and trusted. “Where you go I will go,” declared Ruth. “Your people will be my people, your God will be my God. Where you are buried, there will I be buried.” Barriers of nationality or background faded to insignificance. The character of Naomi, and the compassion of Ruth, overcame all division.
This profound sense of family as neighbor, would in time, make this story a never-ending saga. Back in the Bethlehem region, a man named Boaz took Ruth under his wing. He allowed her to glean for food on his property. He protected her from sexual harassment and catcalls by young field hands. From their interethnic union was born a son named Obed, whom Grandma Naomi joyfully served as nanny. Obed grew up and became the father of Jesse, and Jesse of course was the father of King David. It was a mixed-up family, full of tragedy, yes, but triumphant through the surprising providence of God. If you’re on the verge of giving up, or wondering if God will come through for you, remember this story. Don’t give up.
This isn’t the last we hear of Ruth. In the first book of the New Testament—Matthew—and the first chapter, we find a genealogy. It’s the genealogy of Jesus. It begins with Abraham, goes through David and Solomon, and continues right down to the birth of the baby Jesus. The genealogy is almost entirely men. Dads get all the credit, although they have very little to do with it. In among all those men—across all those centuries are four women. One of the rare women mentioned is Ruth, a Moabite woman, a foreigner, and not an Israelite. She is the great-great-great-great grandma of the Lord. Why does Ruth get a shout-out in this strongly male-dominated list? Maybe Matthew wants us to know, Jesus is of mixed lineage, he’s not a “pure” Israelite. He is for all people; he contains the multiplicity of nations and races within himself. He is the Savior, not just of some, but of all. Ruth symbolizes God’s love for all, God’s ability to bring new life and new hope, even out of what seems like a lost cause. This wonderfully mixed-up human family, in all its diversity, finds its unity and its true home in God.