Pentecost 21 October 13, 2013
The Old Testament Lesson--Ruth 1:1-18 Sermon Text--Ruth 1:16,17
The Epistle--2 Timothy 2:8-13 Psalm: 111
The Gospel--Luke 9:51-62 Rev. Charles W. Papenfuss
Has this ever happened to you? Someone tells you they will meet you somewhere at a 6:00 o'clock. 6:00 o'clock comes, then 6:15, then 6:30. But nobody ever shows up. The person who made a commitment to you let you down. Or you send out invitations to a party and right there on the bottom it says, "RSVP." You even put it in French: "Respondez si vous plait." People are to reply, whether they're coming or not. And you get nothing! No commitment. We're probably all guilty of these social faux pas at times in life; I know I am. They illustrate, in a negative way, what our message from God's Word is about today, and that is commitment. God wants people committed, because He is committed. His very nature is commitment, and He wants that in His people. So let's remember this Word of God from the book of Ruth and apply it to our lives:
IT'S ALL ABOUT COMMITMENT!
1. When it comes to our God
2. When it comes to the people in our life
Our Scripture text today is from the charming story of Ruth. She lived during the period of the Judges, about 1,100-1,200 years before the birth of Jesus. The book of Judges tells us what it was like to live when Ruth lived: "There was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in their own eyes." There was no authority in Israel. Everybody did their own thing. Evil was rampant in the land, people lived their lives ad lib, that is, they simply lived the way everybody around them was living--following the crowd and watching out for themselves. It is a lot like that in our world today.
But in contrast to that is the family of Elimelech and Naomi and their two sons Mahlone and Kilion. Unlike so many around them, they loved the God of Israel and were committed to Him. Because of a famine, they had to go and live in the land of Moab, to the southeast. There Mahlon and Kilion found wives, one of them being Ruth. By her marriage to a Jewish man Ruth became a believer in the God of Israel. But trouble came. Elimelech died. Mahlon died. Kilion died. So now Naomi is going back to her country, back to her home village in Israel. What's Ruth, the Moabite woman, going to do?
Isn't the situation in this story something we can relate to? "There is no king in America. Everyone does what is right in their own eyes." Where's the authority in our country today? Where's the sense of moral right and wrong, the sense of common decency and doing the correct thing according to God's Word? Where's the commitment to God and to other people to doing what is humane and compassionate in people's daily lives? We shouldn't be surprised our days are like that. Jesus had said, "The love of many believers will grow cold in the last days." The Apostle Paul says in his letter to Timothy: "There will be terrible times in the last days. People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, . . . lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God--having a form of godliness but denying its power."
Yet in the middle of this godless world we live in steps up a God who is committed to us. Remember, it's all about commitment! First of all, it's about God's commitment to us. Listen to this Bible promise: "Herein is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins." In another verse the Bible says: "God commended his love for us in this: While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." If we want to know what commitment is all about, we must start with God and His commitment to be our God forever. Even though we are totally unworthy of it, God made the first move and sent His Son Jesus to live and die for us. Through Jesus God has forgiven us all our sins. He has given us a new heart and new life because of His Savior. Plus we know about this for sure and certain, because He has given us a perfect Word of His right here in this book we call the Bible, a book that is 100 per cent true in all that it says. As we heard in the Epistle for today, "If we are faithless, God remains faithful. He cannot deny himself."
It's all about commitment. We know and trust that God has committed Himself to us, just as He committed Himself to Ruth and brought her to Him. It was no accident that one of Elimelech's sons met and married Ruth. That was God's way of giving the gospel of Jesus to Ruth. That was God's way of committing Himself to Ruth, of bringing her into His kingdom of grace, of making her a believer in Him because of His eternal love for her.
Ditto for us! It was no accident that Jesus died on the cross for us 2,000 years ago. Jesus had you and me in mind when they nailed Him to that cross. It was no accident that most of us had parents who brought the Word of God to us as kids, no accident they brought us to the waters of Holy Baptism which washed us clean and made us holy people. It was no accident in the past that we received Christian education--maybe in a Christian school or in a Christian Sunday School. It was no accident that events happened to us as they did, so that God called us from our sin to His grace. And it is no accident today that you are here in church, hearing God tell you about Jesus and His commitment to you. Like Ruth you love this Savior, because He loved you first. Nothing happens to us by accident. It is all God's gracious call to us to let us know that He is eternally committed to save us. It's all about commitment!
So that's what we do in response. Like Ruth we too put our trust in this God and commit to Him for a lifetime. Like Ruth said to Naomi, so we say: "Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God." Like Ruth, we confess our faith when we say, "I believe in God the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth. I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord. I believe in the Holy Spirit." Like Ruth, many of us have stood before our Lord's altar and have taken a confirmation vow to be faithful to our faithful God until the day we die. We have committed ourselves to our God, and we're not going to let anything stop us from doing that. We have vowed we are going to come to worship services every single week to hear Jesus' voice and follow Him. We have vowed to be faithful in a Christian congregation, vowed to confess Jesus to our world, vowed to give offerings to our God, vowed to serve God with everything we have and are until He takes us from this world. What a joy that is! What a privilege! It's all about commitment!
But our lives of commitment aren't just vertical. They don't just go from God to us and from us to God. Our lives of commitment are also horizontal. They go sideways from us to other people around us. It's all about commitment when it comes to the people around us in life.
Ruth had come to know the God of Israel and what He had done for her in committing Himself to her through her mother-in-law, Naomi. Now Naomi was a widow. Now Naomi really needed Ruth's commitment in life. That's why Ruth says in our text: "Don't urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the LORD deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me." It is part of our Christian faith that we show our commitment to our God by committing ourselves to the people around us.
This is a fruit of the Holy Spirit in our lives, that we show commitment to the people around us. Where does that all start? Look where you live! Right there in your home, in your apartment, among your family--that's where commitment comes in to play the most. Do you have a husband or a wife, sons and daughters, grandchildren or grandparents? Commit yourself to doing what's right for them. How about those people you see in your daily lives--your coworkers, your friends, your social acquaintances. Commit yourself to being the face of Jesus to them, to reflecting the Savior's love as practically as possible. How about your neighbors and our greater community, the people who live with on our same block? Commit yourself to these people.
There are all kinds of various relationships in which we can demonstrate commitment to people. Being faithful husbands and loving wives. Being respectful children and obedient students. Serving in the military, working hard at government service, helping the hurting around us, being determined to be a blessing to the people we see in stores and on the sidewalks. Many of you have aging parents or grandparents to care for. Some of you may have special needs children to assist. All of us have a world where children are often ignored or despised or abused or even killed through neglect and abortion. We can defend the life of the unborn and the aged. What a privilege we have to be committed to other people through the love of Christ in us.
Don't ever think, however, that your commitment in your faith in Christ to the people around you will be easy. By going back to Israel Ruth would be living in a foreign land, living among people who might be turned off because she was a foreigner. She probably expected never to marry again and have children, because she was a foreigner. But she did it anyway because she was committed to the people in her life. Her conversion to her God had led her to make a decision to serving her mother-in-law, and that meant she had to put up with whatever problems would come to her because of that.
Pick up this challenge of commitment, no matter what the cost is for you in your life. This is how God's people react when God gives them faith. For example, pastors and teachers and missionaries and other public servants of Christ go all over the world, serving their Savior. Many times their families have to make the same commitments these public servants make, so that wives and grandparents and other family members of pastors and teachers and missionaries have to go without seeing their loved ones for long periods of time. Lay Christians who serve people are also called to give up their lives of ease in their congregations so that others are served. God never said it would be easy, but He did call on all of us to do it.
And here's the key: He will give us the power to do it. It's not up to us to dig deep within ourselves and summon up the strength to be committed to other people and to God. Our God has done everything for us in the Person and work of Christ. Through His Holy Spirit God gives us His strength one day at a time to commit ourselves to what He's given us to do in life. Paul says, "I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength." He tells us, "Commit your way to the LORD. Trust also in him, and He will bring it to pass."
You know how the story of Ruth ended. She met Boaz. She got married. She had children. One of those children was a man named Obed. He had a son named Jesse. Jesse had a son named David, who became King David. And King David's great descendant was Jesus Christ Himself. Yes, Ruth is the ancestor of God Himself in flesh and blood. God does bless commitment in His own way and time. He will bless His commitment to us, and He will bless our commitment to Him and to the people in our lives. Believe that wonderful Bible truth.