The lectionary reading are from the 1st chapter of Ruth and the 20th chapter of John...I also refer to this text from the Gospel of Mary Magdalene:
The disciples were in sorrow, shedding many tears and saying: "How are we to go among the unbelievers and announce the gospel of the Kingdom of the Son of Man? They did not spare His life, so why should they spare ours?"
Then Mary (Magdalene arose, embraced them all, and began to speak to her brothers:
"Do not remain in sorrow and doubt, for His Grace will guide you and comfort you. Instead, let us praise His greatness, for He has prepared us for this. He is calling upon us to become fully human."
Thus Mary turned their hearts
toward the Good, and they began to discuss the meaning of the Teacher's
Picture if you will the perfect cliché’wedding. Bridesmaids in garish matching taffeta. The sweating groom, Pachebell’s canon, or if the church will allow, perhaps the shrill, endless vowels of Whitney Houston's “Iiiiiiiiii will always love youuuuuuuuu”,
and a reading from Ruth:
Where you go I will go
Where you lodge I will lodge
Your people shall be my people
And your God my God.
When these words are spoken in the context of a wedding, a man and a woman pledge their love to one another and they become one in the eyes of their families and friends and society.
But these rich love filled verses were not from a wedding, and not spoken between a man and a woman, they were from one woman to another. More specifically, these words are said from a young Moabite woman to an old Hebrew woman.
Ruth and Naomi’s story starts in the time of the Judges. The Hebrew people have settled in Canaan, but the time of King David has not yet come about. There is a famine in the land. Famine in the promised land. Famine in Bethlehem, which in Hebrew ironically means the “house of Bread” wow. Naomi, her husband and 2 sons go to Moab where there is food. Moab. Moab is not exactly spoken of kindly in the rest of the Hebrew Bible. I can’t imagine what this must have been like. Perhaps not unlike if we in America, this land of plenty had a famine and were so desperate for food that we had to go to Saudi Arabia because their crops were growing like gangbusters. I think perhaps this type of situation would make it difficult to maintain our idea that WE had “Most Favored Nation” status in the eyes of the Almighty. So the House of Bread is pretty much out of bread, but the Moabites who are not exactly best friends with the Hebrew people, much less with their God ha’shem, apparently are doing ok.
Famine. In the Promised Land. Famine. In the House of Bread -
So, where exactly is God?
After having to leave Bethlehem because of famine and after having to go and live with the Moabites, Naomi’s husband dies leaving her a widow, but at least she has her two sons. Still, where exactly is God?
So,then Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women. The Hebrew people have continually been told to not intermarry. Isn’t this a big deal in the Torah that they not marry pagans? That should settle it shouldn’t it. This type of marriage is ok, this type is not. I secretly wonder if they ever claimed to love the pagan, but hate the paganism.
So Naomi’s sons marry Moabite women and then, after famine in Bethlehem, and after having to flee to Moab, and after her sons marry Moabite women, and ten years after she became a widow, she becomes childless. All she has is her sons and her sons die. So, Where exactly is God we ask? Still no mention of God.
So now there are three husbandless women and let me tell you, Life is not friendly to widows. The fear must have been unimaginable. It’s not like today when Naomi could “go back to teaching” or even work at Starbucks for the health benefits. Being a widow meant throwing yourself on the mercy of your kinfolks and hoping...hoping they take care of you. So Naomi decides to go home after hearing that the LORD had recently “considered his people” in Bethlehem and given them food again. OK so, God finally shows up, but only in rumor really and if you ask me, maybe too little too late. In Naomi’s place I know I would have wondered if it would have been too much to ask for God to have “considered his people” before the famine that caused me to go to Moab where my husband and children died.
So, Naomi has no choice but to return home ... the 3 set out for Bethlehem together - Three childless widows, two were Moabites. Naomi feels as though God has turned God’s hand from her. And who can blame her really? Famine has forced her from her land. Her husband is dead. Her sons are dead. Her value in life is dead. From this diminished, hollow, dusty place she does what I and perhaps you have done when feeling particularly unlovable and entirely without value. She tries to push people away from her so as to not feel the pain of being loved while feeling unlovable To the only 2 people she had left in the world she says “go away from me. save yourselves for God has turned his hand against me. I am of no value to you. maybe the LORD will be good to you if you leave me” and when they protest, when they say, no we want to stay with you, she’s like “Why? I am only the mother of your dead husbands - my value to you is only as your provider of husbands, and I have no husbands left in this belly for you. and look, even if I found a husband tonight and bore more sons for you, be real...it’s a long wait till you could marry them....that’s a long time for a gal to be...you know... unmarried, don’t you think you’d get I don’t know, a bit cranky waiting that long?” You see, Naomi is barren in more than one way. Naomi is barren in spirit. SO Where exactly is God we ask?
Why didn’t God show up and stop the famine?
Why didn’t God show up and stop the death of her husband and sons?
Why didn't God show up and stop hurricane Katrrina?
Why didn’t God show up and stop the massacre At Virginia Tech?
I don’t know.
But I do know that in our text, God does show up.
God shows up in these words:
where you go, i will go
where you lodge I will lodge
your people shall be my people
and your God, my God.
God has not turn God’s hand against her, because God’s love is right there, revealed in Ruth’s love for her. Sometimes God’s presence isn’t felt until we cleave to one another.
Naomi’s primary identity was as “one who bore children”, and when those children were gone, she was bitter, and hollowed out and sure God had turned against her. Now, lest I judge her too harshly, I have to admit there have been hollow times in my life when I too have been bitter and wondered “where exactly is God”, which always seems to be the time when some act of love from another person completely breaks me open till I see that God lives in these sometimes small, sometimes great acts of love toward one another.
In these words of love from Ruth, Naomi’s primary identity shifts from “widow” to her true name of beloved of God where it belongs.
And these shifts in identity due to acts of love happen for us too.
So where exactly is God we ask?
God is in love that gives a new primary identity. In love shown to oneanother which then returns us to our true identity, beloved of God
Mary Magdalene whose feast we celebrate today...her identity shifted from demon posessed woman to beloved of God through the love of Christ. In our reading from John today we see her weeping at the empty tomb. She’s been on a bit of a wild ride the past couple of years. I imagine that she had been posessed for such a long time...dealing with her demons...filled with despair...being alienated from herself, from her God and from her community. Then she met this teacher from Gallilee and everything changed. He called her by name. He called her Mary, not demoniac. He called her into the fullness of her humanity, into her new primary identity as beloved of God. But then he was gone. tortured. crucified. dead. buried. gone. “so where is God” she must have asked. Is it really all over now? They have taken him away and I do not know where he is. But then it happened again. While she was in despair weeping for her disappeared Lord she, in a foux pax of historic proportion, mistakes him for the gardener...how exactly do you live that down? In her pain and sorrow she mistakes him for the gardener UNTIL .....he speaks her name. “Mary”. He speaks her true name “Beloved of God” His love for her shifted her primary identity. In a culture where she was not only a woman, but one who was posessed of demons, one who was outcast, one who was the ‘Other’, he loved her into becoming fully human. And then chose her to be the first witness to the resurrection and to be the apostles to the apostels. It is Mary who is given the task of proclaiming the risenChrist, while the boys were arguing about “which one of us is greatest? who is going to be at your right hand in glory? Who is first in the kingdom?” God chooses an outcast woman to tell them that they are beloved of God, that they are called to be fully human and to turn their hearts to the good.
So where is God we ask?
No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another God’s love lives in us and is perfected in us.
Isn’t that what the church is in a way? A group in which our value comes from being the beloved of God, children of the Most High and not our jobs, or bank accounts or status in society, or sexual orientation...ideally speaking?
There are plenty of times in life when we wonder “Where exactly is God?” when the events of life are painful, or unjust or downright devastating. When we too are barren of spirit. Sometimes there are no miraculous healings, or partings of the seas or raising of the dead. Sometimes there is just us asking where is God. But Sometimes God is that still small voice of gentle kindnesses toward one another. Sometimes God is the roaring wind of our mercies undeserved. But always God is revealed in acts of love toward one another. No one has ever seen God, but if we love one another God lives in us and God’s love is perfected in us.
So, my friends, close your eyes if you choose and visualize above your head some of your most primary identities : mother, husband, elderly, lawyer, high schooler, ...whatever they may be. And as I say these words of love from these women of God, visualize these labels being erased and replaced boldly with the words beloved of God
Where you go I will go
where you lodge, I will lodge
Your people shall be my people
and your God my God
Do not remain in sorrow, for God’s grace will guide you and comfort you. God is calling us to become fully human. God had prepared us for this. Turn your hearts to the good.
You are the Beloved of God