Return

5 04 2020

This is my pastor’s Sunday Morning sermon for quarantine this Sunday April, 5th, 2020. Read it together as a family and read all the Scripture.

“Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited his people in giving them bread. Wherefore she went forth out of the place where she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on the way to return unto the land of Judah. And Naomi said unto her two daughters in law, Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me. The Lord grant you that ye may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband. Then she kissed them; and they lifted up their voice, and wept. And they said unto her, Surely we will return with thee unto thy people. And Naomi said, Turn again, my daughters: why will ye go with me? are there yet any more sons in my womb, that they may be your husbands? Turn again, my daughters, go your way; for I am too old to have an husband. If I should say, I have hope, if I should have an husband also to night, and should also bear sons; Would ye tarry for them till they were grown? would ye stay for them from having husbands? nay, my daughters; for it grieveth me much for your sakes that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me. And they lifted up their voice, and wept again: and Orpah kissed her mother in law; but Ruth clave unto her. And she said, Behold, thy sister in law is gone back unto her people, and unto her gods: return thou after thy sister in law. And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried: the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me. When she saw that she was stedfastly minded to go with her, then she left speaking unto her. So they two went until they came to Bethlehem. And it came to pass, when they were come to Bethlehem, that all the city was moved about them, and they said, Is this Naomi? And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt very bitterly with me. I went out full and the Lord hath brought me home again empty: why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty hath afflicted me? So Naomi returned, and Ruth the Moabitess, her daughter in law, with her, which returned out of the country of Moab: and they came to Bethlehem in the beginning of barley harvest.” (Ruth 1:6-22)

One preacher said, “It is possible to know God and yet be far from Him.”
I was blessed to grow up in a Christian home. My parents loved “the boys.” There were
four of us. Dad worked hard at the factory producing cooling towers.

After coming home from work Dad would either work around the house or he would rebuild an engine on a car he had purchased to resell and supplement the family income. Mom would purchase food to feed us. Oh, how I loved that fried chicken and fried “taters.” We always had enough to eat. I never remember ever going hungry. We did not get many new clothes, unless you count the Nehru Jackets. But that is a story for another time. Mom would shop at the thrift stores and somehow always seemed to come home with nice, new-looking, clothes. Both my Mom and Dad instilled in us the value of hard work. I can still remember Dad saying, “If a job is not done correctly, it is not done.”

You would think that with all the love, provision and protection they provided us that we
would never disagree or disobey them, but we did. This was evidenced by the choices
that we made. These choices were signs that we were walking away from the safety of
their influence. While our choices created distance from the influence of our parents, we
were never far from them. We were never very far from them but we were very far apart
from their influence.

Similarly, that is how we are as children of God. Most of us have had the experience of
drifting away from God. We never planned for it to happen, but along the way we made
some wrong choices. Before you knew it, we were not as near to God as we had once
been. He had not left us as he promised, “…for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor
forsake thee.” (Hebrews 13:5).

There are two things to remember; no one is exempt from this and we all come by it
naturally. This will happen to you no matter who you are. You might be the preacher or
a deacon and still be a long way from God. You might be a Sunday School teacher or
an usher and still be a long way from God. You may have grown up in a Christian home
but have rejected the teachings of that home. Perhaps something was said by another
believer and it broke your heart and crushed your spirit. Instead of making things right
with that person, somehow our relationship with God suffered. (This happens when we
choose to place blame where it does not belong.)

Something like this happened to Naomi. Several years have passed since she, her
husband and two sons left Bethlehem for the country of Moab. They left because there
was a famine in the land (a reasonable decision). They planned on staying just through
this difficult time and would then go back home. They had good intentions but nothing
worked out as they had hoped. Naomi’s husband, Elimelech died first and then her two
sons; Mahlon and Chilion died.

What do you do when the dreams of your life are shattered and you find yourself alone
and broken-hearted? That brings us to today’s passage of scripture, Ruth 1:6-22. There
is one word that appears repeatedly in these scriptures, the word “return.” In our
passage it has at least two meanings. One to physically return somewhere and second
to spiritually return back to the Lord.

When Naomi began her journey from Bethlehem she traveled west to east. Now ten
years later she is returning, traveling east to west. Her journey is both literal and
spiritual. After living in this Pagan land for a decade she is now returning to her
homeland but also in a spiritual sense she is turning her life around and returning to the
God of the Bible. She stepped out in faith with her family and is now returning battered
and bruised in her faith walk.

I believe this is a timely message for us as we are in the midst of uncertainty with the
Coronavirus pandemic. We need to practice Godly caution as we daily make decisions
that will impact us for the rest of our lives. Let me encourage you to walk more closely to
God than you have ever done before. You will discover that you must do it on purpose.
Here are three things to consider in your return.

1. Go Home

Naomi had a decision to make. Should she continued to dwell in Moab? If she does,
she will be a stranger in this land. If she makes that choice Orpah and Ruth will most
likely remarry Moabite men. Should she take her daughters-in-law with her to another
land? Or should she return to Bethlehem to be with her own people. Her decision
seemed to be an easy one to make when news arrived that the famine in Bethlehem
was over.

“Then she arose with her daughters in law, that she might return from the
country of Moab: for she had heard in the country of Moab how that the Lord had visited
his people in giving them bread. Wherefore she went forth out of the place where
she was, and her two daughters in law with her; and they went on their way to return
unto the land of Judah.” (Ruth 1:6-7).

The famine was over, for Naomi the decision was easy. I shall return to my homeland.
But what of her two daughters-in-law? What would Orpah and Ruth decide to do? Life
as a Jewish widow in Bethlehem would be difficult at best, but it would be much worse
of young Moabite widows. Who would feed these women? Who would clothe and
provide them shelter?

Naomi did not have the wherewithal to take care of these young widows. The natural
thought process would be for them to live in Moab, the land of their people. Naomi was
attempting to give the best advice she could. She was not being unkind. It was natural
to consider that Orpah and Ruth would have a better chance of survival in Moab. It was
a difficult conversation to have to say the least. Consider the bond that these women
had made over the past several years. Naomi wanted what was best for her daughters-
in-law.

For Naomi, the decision had been made. She was going home back to the place of
blessing. But Orpah and Ruth wanted to stay with Naomi. They too intended to go to
Bethlehem and start over in a new land. Naomi wanted Orpah and Ruth to consider
what it would mean to live in a land that was new to them. Naomi pleaded with them
saying she was too old to have more sons they could marry. When Naomi encouraged
them to go back home, she said, “…Go, return each to her mother’s house: the Lord
deal kindly with you, as ye have dealt with the dead, and with me.” (Ruth 1:8). I am told
that this is an Old Testament way of saying, “As you showed grace to the dead and to
me, may God now show grace to you.”

It is probable that the main reason Naomi encouraged Orpah and Ruth to go is found in
verse 13 when she said, “…that the hand of the Lord is gone out against me.” She is
telling them to not stay with her because all that she had loved is now gone. She was
saying that the Lord had brought her nothing but trouble. First, it was famine in
Bethlehem and second, all the men in her life died. Without saying it she believed that
the Lord had become her enemy. (Have you ever felt that way before?) All hope seems
to be lost. There does not seem to be, “a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Orpah took Naomi’s advice and returned to Moab. That is the last we ever hear of her in
Scripture. One can only imagine the heaviness of the hearts of those two as they
separated; Orpah to Moab and Naomi to Bethlehem. Naomi must have felt similar to the
Prodigal Son as he made the walk back to his father’s house. Recall he said, “And am
no more worthy to be called thy son: make me as one of thy hired servants.” (Luke
15:19).

As a side note, the Prodigal Son did not make any deals with his father. He came
back home with no conditions. He demanded nothing. (That would have been pride
speaking.) The Prodigal Son was so embarrassed about the way he had lived that he
was saying that I am not worthy to be called your son. Pride has no part in repentance.
In fact, real repentance does not make deals with God.

But like the Prodigal Son who underestimated his father’s heart, so did Naomi
underestimate her Heavenly Father’s heart. As we live in these uncertain times, if we
are not careful, we could find ourselves in this condition. It begins with the unwise
choices that have taken us far from God.

Many of us have lived within these poor choices for a long time. That in and of itself could cause us to doubt God’s willingness to take us back. If you are thinking that, ask God to remove that thought from your mind. Someone said, “Regret means you have learned from your mistakes.” If you regret your past, you know you messed up and if like Naomi you have tired of living with the pagans, you can return home. You do not have to stay in Moab. You can go home.

2. Commit to the Trip

Well Orpah has left but Ruth is refusing to leave her mother-in-law. Naomi attempts one
more time to convince Ruth to stay in Moab. Naomi knew how the Jews and the
Moabites hated one another.

Not only would it be difficult for Ruth to go there but it could be dangerous for her as well. One writer said that if Ruth went to Bethlehem, “She would be as welcomed as a ham sandwich at a bar mitzvah.” Naomi knew that it could potentially cost Ruth something to go to Bethlehem. Similarly, Jesus warns the disciples of the cost of following Him, “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear hi cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple.” (Luke 14:26-27).

Naomi is warning Ruth. She is doing her best to make her understand that this will not
be an easy life. But Ruth had made up her mind. Listen to her response in Ruth 1:16-
17, “And Ruth said, Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee: for
whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge: thy people shall be my
people, and thy God my God: Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:
the Lord do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

Many times, these words are quoted in wedding ceremonies but they first applied to a
daughter-in-law committing herself to her mother-in-law. Not only is she committing
herself to Naomi but also to Naomi’s people and Naomi’s God. Ruth’s commitment is
personal, it is voluntary and it is complete.

This is something when you consider that Ruth had nothing to gain by going to
Bethlehem. She seems like an intelligent person and certainly knew that she was
probably looking at a life of poverty and rejection. The only thing that Ruth is thinking at
this moment is her connection and attachment to Naomi. (Oh, that we could attach
ourselves to God and allow Him to sort out our future.)

It would seem that Ruth was displaying more faith than Naomi. This is amazing when
you consider that the faith being displayed was that by an “outsider” of the faith. After
Ruth’s proclamation to Naomi, verse 18 tells us that, “…then she left speaking unto
her.” There was no reason for anymore talk. Ruth was going to be by her side.

3. Go to the Place of Blessing

Naomi and Ruth arrive in Bethlehem. In those days Bethlehem was a tiny village.
Everyone knew everyone. The questions the town folk must have had. Where is
Elimelech? Where are the boys? Certainly, they were pleased and surprised to see
Naomi at the same time. Here is how Naomi sums up her time in the country of Moab,

“And she said unto them, Call me not Naomi, call me Mara: for the Almighty hath dealt
very bitterly with me. I went out full, and Lord hath brought me home again empty:
why then call ye me Naomi, seeing the Lord hath testified against me, and the Almighty
hath afflicted me.” (Ruth 1:20-21).

Do not call me Naomi (Pleasant) but call me Mara (Bitter). One preacher said, “Ruth is a
bruised believer, and those bruises take a long time to heal.” Naomi was saying God
made me very bitter. God brought me back empty. He opposed me. He afflicted me.
The bitter pain that Naomi experienced in Moab had bruised her faith, but it has not
destroyed it. If God is sovereign, then I must deal with God.

Naomi has no idea what is going to happen next. (Just like us when we come back from
our Moab.) She is not thinking of Boaz and how he will someday marry Ruth. We are
looking at a bruised and battered woman that has come home in utter defeat. It seems
that God has dealt harshly with her, or so she believes. She cannot see the bigger
picture. (We are no different today. We walk into the next day as the sun comes up after
experiencing great defeat. You see, we are all a Naomi at sometime or other in our
Christian walk. Are you walking back from your Moab now?)

Someone said, “Can we return to God and still harbor feelings like this? If we answer
no, it means we have not suffered very much.” For those that have suffered great loss,
you can understand Naomi’s heart. She is a battered and bruised believer and those
bruises take a long time to heal.

It was a difficult trip for Naomi to make, returning home without her husband and
sons. But she was determined to return to the place of God’s blessing. Some
might read this story and say that Naomi was a bitter woman. This is a true statement
but there is more to consider. As long as she stayed in Moab, she was out of God’s will.
At least she had the faith to make the long journey home. (How about you?)

We all make foolish choices that put us in bad situations. All of us, at one time or
another, have tried to sojourn in Moab. Perhaps we have done it by entering into an
incorrect relationship. Perhaps we moved when we should have stayed. Maybe we
gave up too soon. Perhaps we attempted to try a shortcut that got us into trouble.
Maybe we were thinking we could become involved in sin convincing ourselves that it
would not hurt us. We tried all these only to end up in defeat.

How about you today? Have you journeyed to Moab as the result of a sinful decision?
You see the question is not, “Have we sinned?” Of course, we have sinned. The
question is, “What will you do about it?”

Remember God’s grace exceeds our sin. One man said, “God does not consult your
past to determine your future.” Thank God that is true, and it is just as true for us as it
was for Naomi.

A footnote:

As we have discussed we are living in uncertain times. The Coronavirus has
provided far more questions than answers. I just want to remind you that while these are
uncertain times to us, they are not uncertain times to God. Remember what Charles
Spurgeon said about those that trust in the material things of the world,

“Every now and then, in order to enforce this distasteful truth upon us (that God is in control), the God of Providence gives the world, in some way or other, a warning shake. The Lord only has to lay one finger upon the world, and the mountains are carried into the midst of the sea, where the waters of the ocean roar and are troubled until the mountains shake with the swelling thereof.”

God is using this uncertain time to drawn people to Himself. Let’s join Him as He does.


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