Stewardship: Carrying Each Other's Hope
The Rev. Sara Cosca-Warfield
Scripture: Ruth 1:1-18
Here’s what you learn in seminary about the Bible—well, one of the things: whenever there’s a command to do something, it’s because people weren’t doing it. Or vice versa: if there’s a command not to do something, it’s because people were doing it, and it was a problem. So when we hear over and over again, care for the orphan and widow, welcome the stranger, guess what? It’s because orphans and widows were being left behind to starve and suffer. Strangers, or foreigners we might say, or immigrants, were being mistreated, discriminated against.
Which brings us to Ruth. The book of Ruth was likely written during the time of Ezra, a high priest of Israel, and the governor Nehemiah who set out to “purify” the Jewish population by forcing Jewish men who married non-Jewish women to divorce them and marry “clean” women.
Here are the things you need to know about Ruth: she was a Moabite woman, a non-Jewish woman, married to a Jewish man. In the story we hear today, her husband has died, so she is also a widow. Naomi tells her to return to her mother’s house, which also indicates that Ruth is fatherless.
So she is a stranger. A widow. A woman without a man to rely on, which in those times meant that she was vulnerable to starvation, exploitation, and irrelevance.
But Ruth is also something else: she is the hero of this story. The woman who chooses faithfulness to a person she loves, the woman who will become the great-grandmother of David, her name listed in the line of Jesus’ ancestry.
Bits of Exodus and Deuteronomy and the Psalms call for caring for the orphans, widows, and strangers, but the whole book of Ruth is a powerful narrative that wraps all of these concerns into one unexpected hero, or heroine I should say. Ruth’s story was a big calling out of the people in power who were choosing nationalism and xenophobia over their own faith’s teachings.
In our reading today, Ruth is presented with a choice. Naomi, her mother-in-law who has lost her own husband and her two sons, tells Ruth to go back to her mother’s home. Find another husband, she basically says. Have sons. (Sons are what counted in those times.) I’m too old to remarry and have more sons, she says, but there’s still hope for you. Go! Be with your people. Find a better life, because I certainly can’t give it to you. And she’s right. Naomi is in an even worse situation than Ruth.
But Ruth does not go back to her people. She does not seek security. Instead, she stays with her mother-in-law who is heartbroken. They are not related by blood but by hardship. By their shared loss. By their shared experience of pain and persecution.
In that moment, Ruth decides who her family will be, where her home will be. And in choosing Naomi, she also chooses what she will believe in. Who she will believe in.
Where you go, I will go;
Where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
As the story goes, Ruth decides to follow Naomi to Bethlehem, leaving her native Moab. She chooses to become a stranger in a land that is hostile to strangers. She arrives a widow in a land where widows survive on whatever is left in the fields after the harvest. She goes there because it is the place Naomi calls home.
Because what Ruth knows is that she loves Naomi. That relationship is the most important thing to her. More important than her personal comfort or security. And right then, Naomi is hopeless. So Ruth chooses to stay with her so that she might carry hope for her.
Today we kick off our annual stewardship campaign, and the theme is the same as it’s been the last two years: Hope & Abundance. Because honestly, I can’t think of any other words, any other ideas, that so exemplify what St. Luke’s is about and why we commit ourselves to this community.
Ruth chooses to stay so that she might carry hope for Naomi. Isn’t that also why we’re here? That when we’re struggling, we have a place where others might carry our hope for us, and where we can carry others’ hope when they can’t carry it themselves.
In her faithfulness to Naomi, Ruth shows her faithfulness to God. And in our faithfulness to one another, we show our faithfulness to God. Because God is most present in the ties that bind us together. Isn’t that what the Gospel tells us today?
“Which commandment is the first of all?” the scribes ask Jesus. And Jesus answered, “The first is, you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Relationship with God, connection with one another. These are greatest commandments. The way we show up for each other is how we manifest God in this world.
St. Luke’s is a place where we intentionally practice relationship. I know for a fact that there is not one person here who likes every other person here all the time. Just like I don’t like my wife all the time. She drives me bonkers sometimes. We’re not called to like one another all the time. But we are called to love one another all the time. And sometimes loving one another means letting someone know when they’re hurting us. Sometimes loving one another means setting boundaries around what we’re able to give and how we’re able to show up.
Anyone who has been in a committed relationship knows that authentic love is sometimes hard. We’re all a burden sometimes. Love means choosing to carry another person’s burden for awhile until they’re able to carry it themselves. Like Ruth did for Naomi. To know that there is someone to carry our burdens when we’re weary, to put up with us when we’re messy, is to know hope.
Isn’t that liberating? We get to show up as we are. Honestly. Sometimes light and joyful, sometimes tired and grumpy. No matter what, we know that when we come here, we will be loved. Just like God loves us.
Stewardship is about choosing this St. Luke’s family and the God we love, as Ruth chose Naomi and the God she loved. It’s about choosing this place of authenticity, this place of hope. It’s about creating and recreating this community day after day, month after month, year after year. Together. By committing our resources, our money and time and skills, to each other.
Yes, we need to pay the bills. Yes, we need to tend to our building. Yes, I enjoy getting a paycheck. But those things are all in service to this choice we make. To be part of this Body of Christ that celebrates our joys, cares for us in times of trouble, and helps us to know that we are loved no matter what. Amen.