Where You Go, I Will Go!

Meditation on Ruth 1:1-18

First Presbyterian Church, Smithtown, NY

Pastor Karen Crawford

May 8, 2022

Link to recording of live-streamed worship service for Mother’s Day: https://fb.watch/cVcOCOLQ1B/

I can’t believe I am finally here with you— leading worship and sharing a message with you for the first time as my very own flock.

Thank you for calling me to serve as your pastor.  You’re probably as anxious to get to know me as I am to know you. I am passionate about ministry—wanting to help you grow and heal from any hurts.

I am here to serve you and care for you and help you care for one another and seek God’s will for your life and the life of our congregation.

I never knew any female pastors when I was growing up in the 1960s and 70s. Maybe if I had, I would have come to the decision to pursue ministry sooner.

I pray that I will inspire girls and young women in our congregation to develop their gifts for ministry, whatever ministry God is calling them to do. Like the writer of Ephesians tells us, may we all come to “live a life worthy of the calling (we) have received.”

But today, if there’s one thing I would like you to remember from this message, it’s that we must persevere in HOPE.

A scripture that comes to mind in this season for our church is Hebrews 10:23-25:

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

***

Opening boxes this week from our move, I found some old pictures of my grandmother, Mabel. I got to thinking how I have come from a long line of strong, hardworking women. Any of you from a long line of strong women? Any of you strong women?

Grandma grew up in Pleasantville, New Jersey, near Atlantic City. She was one of 13 children of Norwegian immigrant parents. I used to hear how her father was a construction worker who helped to build the Steel Pier, the amusement park built on the boardwalk; it opened in June 1898. Grandma didn’t graduate from high school, though she was an excellent student; she left school after 11th grade to work in restaurants with her older sister, Bertha, carrying plates up and down her arms and walking in borrowed high heels that were too small.

She met and married my grandfather when she was working as a nanny for a family that was vacationing in Daytona Beach, Florida. Charles Springer was a widower with two children, a butcher from City Island, NY, who spent the winter months in his family’s cottage in Florida.

They had one child together—my mom, Elaine, who is a college graduate and a Navy veteran and has worked as a nurse, real estate agent and tax preparer.

Grandma never worked outside the home after she was married. She was active in her Lutheran church—singing in the choir for more than 50 years and teaching Sunday school and junior choir. She was a full-time caregiver to her daughter—involved in every activity Mom was—and to her husband, as well as his parents, who lived with them until they died. She didn’t learn to drive until she was in her 40s—and my mom taught her how.

Grandma’s house was always open to her neighbors, who would wander in for friendly conversation and a cup of coffee and slice of cake. Her house was always open to her big, extended family—who would drop by for a meal and a game of cards or to stay a night or two, if they were just passing through.

She came to visit us many summers in Maryland to take care of my brother, sister, and me while my mom and dad were working. She drove us to the community pool, the library, and grocery store; cooked and cleaned; read to us; played games; listened as we practiced piano or had long conversations. She took us on walks in our neighborhood.

She made the best lemon meringue pie. She taught us to pray simple prayers before meals and at bedtime. She gave me my first Bible. I unpacked it last night with her photos! A white leatherbound King James, with the words of Jesus in red.

From the strong women in my life—my mother and grandmothers—I learned compassion, kindness, and service—and the importance of saying thank you and writing thank you notes. I learned the value of making my bed every morning, enjoying a hot bath, and setting a pretty table with napkins, no matter what food was served. I developed, under their nurture, a love for reading and writing. I came to appreciate the peace of washing clothes and the fresh smell of laundry flapping on a clothesline.

I learned to work hard and do my best.  How to give and receive love. To live in the present and not look back on the past with rose-colored glasses. And to always have hope for tomorrow.

In today’s reading in Ruth, we encounter 3 strong women, widows. One is older, an Israelite named Naomi who came with her husband and two sons to Moab 10 years before, when there was famine in Bethlehem. The other two are younger, Moabites, daughters-in-law named Ruth and Orpah. We all remember Ruth, right? But not many of us remember Orpah.

Because Orpah is the one who turns back. She doesn’t complete the 50-mile, 7 to 10 day journey on foot over steep slopes back to Bethlehem with Naomi. She doesn’t go—but it’s out of obedience to Naomi’s request.

Naomi believes she is going home to die; for nothing awaits her there—no home, no family, no money, no job….And nothing is left for her in Moab. She has already buried her husband and two sons. She has no grandchildren.

In verse 8, Naomi says to her two daughters-in-law, “ ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.”

Ruth refuses to leave Naomi. Her home is Naomi—and her calling is to care for and provide for her widowed mother-in-law. She will do so as soon as they arrive in Bethlehem. Penniless and hungry, she will work in the fields, gleaning what’s left after the paid laborers have gleaned, relying on the kindness, mercy, and generosity of a stranger, a wealthy landowner named Boaz.

At the crucial moment, Ruth has to decide—should she stay or go. Should she leave everyone and everything that is familiar and go to Bethlehem, where Moabites are not usually welcomed and embraced in friendship?

At this crucial moment, Ruth is the one who perseveres in hope and faith. This is a surprising faith in the God whom Naomi worships, not the pagan gods of the Moabites. This is a faith that gives her wisdom, courage, and strength. A faith that bears the fruit of love.

This is a faith that, like ours, is a gift from God. For God has a plan to use Ruth, who will become the great-grandmother of David, Israel’s most beloved king.

Ruth weeps and clings to Naomi, saying,

“Do not press me to leave you,
    to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
    where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people
    and your God my God.”

Dear friends, the mercy, generosity, and compassion of Boaz for the foreigner, Ruth, is a picture of God’s love for us. We who were once strangers and outsiders have been grafted into the family tree through our risen Savior.

You and I have begun our journey of faith together. We have made a crucial decision. So now we don’t look back. Today, we have taken our first steps forward into the wonderful future God has planned.

Let us trust in the faithfulness of our Lord, from age to age, still the same—and not in our own abilities, intellect, or past successes. Let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds,not giving up meeting together, … but encouraging one another. Let us cling to our hope in the Lord, as Ruth clung to Naomi and her faith—and be ready to respond to the stirring of the Spirit, working in and among us.

May we say to the Lord, beckoning us to follow, “Where you go, I will go.”

Let us pray.

Heavenly Father, thank you for this ministry here in Smithtown, the calling you have given us for such a time as this. Thank you for your gift of faith and your everlasting love, mercy and grace that will be with us forever on this journey together. Lead us, step by step, navigating any difficulties that may be ahead with grace and peace and yes, even joy. Grant us your wisdom, courage, and strength. As we persevere in hope, help us to bear the fruit of love. In Christ we pray. Amen.

Published by karenpts

I am the pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Smithtown, New York on Long Island. Come and visit! We want to share God’s love and grace with you and encourage you on your journey of faith. I have served Presbyterian congregations in Minnesota, Florida and Ohio since my ordination in 2011. I am a 2010 graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary and am working on a doctor of ministry degree with Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary. I am married to Jim and we have 5 grown children and two grandchildren in our blended family. We are parents to fur babies, Liam, an orange tabby cat, and Rory, a standard poodle.

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