Sermon series: Building Lasting Relationships - Ruth
"'Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs' was the story of the day at the nursery school of four-year-old Jane. This was the first time she had ever heard the story, so she listened carefully as the teacher told the story of the sweet young girl who was fed a poisoned apple by an old witch, and the predictable result: she fell into a deep sleep and would never wake up unless she received a kiss from the wonderful Prince Charming.
"Jane couldn't wait to get home and tell the story to her mother. At home, Jane said, 'Mother, let me tell you this story. You'll never believe it.' She began to describe what had happened to Snow White. When she got to the end, she said, 'And, Mother, Prince Charming kissed her back to life, and guess what happened?' The mother responded, 'Well, honey, they lived happily ever after.' But the little girl shook her head and replied, 'No, they didn't, Mother; they got married.'" [1001 Great Stories, 278-9]
Many have become cynical about traditional marriage. In their book that advocates open marriage, Nena and George O'Neil contend that, "the traditional closed marriage is a form of bondage, for both husband and wife." They list six "psychological commitments involved in a traditional marriage:  possession or ownership of the mate,  denial of the self,  maintenance of the "couple front,"  rigid role behavior,  absolute fidelity, and  total exclusivity.
And they warn: "Subtly, insidiously, often without your even knowing it, the clauses of the closed marriage contract begin to foreclose upon your freedom and your individuality, making you a slave of your marriage."
Their commentary leads me to ask, "So why did this couple get married? Fortunately, theirs is not the final word on building lasting relationships. In our study of the book of Ruth we have examined two of the options that an individual can choose to take when a relationship is strain by the realities of life. Like Orpah and those listed above, some people simply walk away from their relationships to pursue happiness elsewhere.
Others, like Naomi, remain in the relationship out of necessity instead of loving devotion.
Today we consider the third option. Ruth made the best decision because she decided to hold the family together at all costs.
I. She pictured responsible living - 1:9-10, 14
Ruth was a model of responsible living in an irresponsible age. When presented with an opportunity to walk away from a relationship, she desired to stay. No doubt, she loved her mother-in-law. But to Ruth more was involved. She regarded this as a covenant relationship. Her example was a living interpretation of Genesis 2:24: "Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and shall cleave to his wife."
Notice two familiar words in this passage.
"leave" [see 1:10, 16 "not to leave"] This represented a breaking with the past such as former familial obligations.
"cleave" [see 1:14] This represented a bonding (a new covenant relationship that takes priority in one's life).
These are the exact words used in Genesis 2:24. She demonstrated an incredible depth in her devotion to Naomi. While this was obviously not a marriage relationship, it magnifies the proper attitude necessary for any relationship to endure. This high level of commitment was a characteristic of Ruth that would, as we will see, spill over into every relationship she had. It indicates what kind of wife, mother, believer, friend, and employee she would be.
Some people take their commitment to marriage lightly. One man wrote, "I hope my wife will never divorce me, because I love her with all my heart. But if one day she tells me I am minimizing her or making her feel inferior or in any way standing in the light she needs to become the person God meant her to be, I hope she'll be free to throw me out even if she's one hundred. There is something more important than our staying married, and it has to do with integrity, personhood, and purpose."
That is just irresponsible! Staying is the act of integrity and personhood.
II. She pledged her commitment without reservation - 1:16-17
While verse 14 reveals her desire to care for Naomi, verses 16 and 17 reveal her decision. This passage is the most beautiful statement of commitment in printed literature. Its beauty and simplicity remind us of the characteristics of genuine commitment to a relationship.
A. It is costly - 1:16
She had to sacrifice a great deal personally to stay in this relationship. She gave up her:
1. Her future: "Entreat me not to leave you"
She was willing to sacrifice her freedom from the responsibility of caring for Naomi. When Ruth's husband died she was probably not more than 25 years old. For all she knew she would never remarry or have children. But as a widow, she committed to care for her aging, widowed, mother-in-law. This was a complete break with the past without any promises for the future.
2. Her familiarity: "wherever you go, I will go . . . I will lodge"
She was willing to sacrifice her national identity and homeland. She was leaving the land where she was born and raised [1:4, Moab] for a land with new and strange customs. How she be received?
3. Her family and friends: "your people shall be my people"
She was willing to sacrifice a close relationship with family. She was leaving behind her mother [1:8], extended family, and friends.
4. Her faith: "your God shall be my God"
She was willing to sacrifice her religious heritage and the worship of the idol Chemosh. We would consider this her conversion.
This was a costly decision.
B. It is long-term
"A college man walked into a photography studio with a framed picture of his girlfriend. He wanted the picture duplicated. This involved removing it from frame. In doing this, the studio owner noticed the inscription on the back of the photograph:
'My dearest Tom, I love you with all my heart. I love you more and more each day. I will love you forever and ever. I am yours for eternity.'
"It was signed 'Diane.' And it contained a P.S.: 'If we ever break up, I want this picture back.'" [Illustrations Unlimited, 97]
In contrast, notice Ruth's statement: "Where you die, I will die." Now that sounds like a till-death-do-us-part type of commitment. She didn't approach relationships with the attitude that if things get tough or don't work out the way I want, I can leave. No! She had that if-things-don't-work-out-I'll-work-harder attitude. This certainly implies faithfulness. Further, this type of commitment is the glue that holds relationships together when adversity tests them.
C. It is sacred
"The Lord do so to me"
She didn't just make this vow to Naomi. She also made this vow to God. We still do this at weddings so that we will remember that God sanctions the home. By invoking the name of God, she made her pledge of commitment complete. She made a physical, emotional, and spiritual vow. There were no reservations.
III. She proved her commitment - 1:18-22
Every year thousands of couples pledge their love and devotion to each other only to break their promises later. Ruth proved her commitment in two ways.
A. Convincing words - 1:18
Ruth's vow pulsated with deep passion and meaning. Her words didn't have a hollow ring. Further, based upon her past example [1:8], Naomi had no reason to question Ruth.
B. Consistent works - 1:19-22
Ruth followed through with her vow. She left Moab with Naomi and moved to Bethlehem. Notice, however, that Naomi did not fully appreciate Ruth [1:.21 " . . . the Lord has brought me home again empty"). Ruth's commitment was not dependent on Naomi's commitment or behavior.
Dr. Richard Selzer, a surgeon, wrote: "I stand by the bed where a young woman lies, her face postoperative, her mouth twisted in palsy, clownish. A tiny twig of the facial nerve, the one to the muscles of her mouth, has been severed. She will be thus from now on. The surgeon has followed with religious fervor the curve of her flesh; I promise you that. Nevertheless to remove the tumor in her cheek, I had to cut the little nerve.
"Her young husband is in the room. He stands on the opposite side of the bed, and together they seem to swell in the evening lamplight, isolated from me, private. Who are they, I ask myself, he and this wry-mouth I have made, who gaze at and touch each other so generously, greedily? The young woman speaks.
"'Will my mouth always be like this?' She asks.
"'Yes,' I say, 'it will. It is because the nerve was cut.'
"She nods and is silent. But the young man smiles, 'I like it,' he says. 'Its kind of cute.'
"All at once I know who he is. I understand, and I lower my gaze. One is not bold in an encounter with a God. Unmindful, he bends to kiss her crooked mouth, and I so close can see how he twists his own lips to accommodate hers, to show her that their kiss still works." [1001 Great Stories, 263-4]
Life is full of challenges and difficult circumstances. While one cannot control the actions of another, he or she can make the commitment to hold the family together.