Third Sunday of Epiphany

January 24, 2021

We had a little trouble with the live-stream this week, but you can still catch most of the service: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zmF3RTIufBw&t=440s

The bulletin and hymns can be found:

For the next few weeks we’re going to be taking a look at one of the great narratives of the Old Testament, the book of Ruth. This story of hospitality, loyalty, and love has inspired generations of the faith, and we pray the Spirit blesses our reading of the Word:

Ruth 1:1-22

  • In the Christian canon, Ruth is placed between Judges and 1 Samuel among what are often called the ‘histories,’ but in the Jewish scriptures Ruth is part of the Ketuvim (or ‘writings’) with the poetry of the psalms and proverbs. What difference might that make in how we are supposed to read this story? What truths can we learn from legends, even the ones that might be exaggerated or only partially factual? Why do you think this story of strong women, romance, and the virtues of hospitality and faithfulness has endured for so many centuries?
  • Ruth is a story about refugees. Elimelech & Naomi are forced to go to Moab after a famine strikes Bethlehem (literally ‘house of bread’). Then when Ruth returns with her widowed mother-in-law, the text repeatedly reminds us that she is a Moabite, a stranger. Israel and Moab have a long history of conflict and animosity (read Genesis 19, Judges 3, or Ezra 9); can you imagine how hard it was for Naomi to be welcomed in Moab or Ruth in Israel? Have you ever felt like a stranger in need of a friend? Internationally, we are in the midst of a refugee crisis today as people fleeing from conflict and poverty try to relocate to other places. What sort of desperate circumstances would you or your family have to face to immigrate to a new land? How do the scriptures call us to show hospitality and welcome to the stranger (read Leviticus 19:33-34, Matthew 25:35, or Hebrews 13:2)?
  • In the first chapter of Ruth, Naomi suffers tragedy on a level that reminds us of Job. She loses her home and community in Bethlehem, her husband, her sons, any means of supporting herself in a patriarchal society… the list seems overwhelming. It’s not that surprising that by the end of the chapter she asks her neighbors to stop calling her Naomi (which means sweet/pleasant) and instead call her Mara (literally ‘bitter’). Have you ever felt embittered by grief? When you are mourning, do you want to be alone or with faithful friends? How do you pray when it feels like “the Lord has dealt harshly” with you?
  • Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem after the famine has ended, and the scene of these three widows on the road is one of the most memorable in Ruth’s story. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to go back to Moab, because she cannot offer them a future. It should be noted that neither makes the “wrong” choice – Orpah proves to be obedient and Ruth proves to be fiercely loyal (both virtues for Biblical women). What choice do you think you would have made? What sort of commitment is Ruth making to Naomi to not part with her even in death? Who among your family or friends do you love enough to make a vow like this? How is Ruth showing God’s love here?

I’m excited to spend a few weeks in this remarkable story together! I pray you experience the love and hospitality of God this week through the words of faithful friends.

Grace and Peace,

Pastor Maggie Rust

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