Thomas J Parlette
Ruth 1: 1-18
In our entertainment-saturated world, we hear a lot of lines from movies. Most are quickly forgotten, but some make us laugh, some make us think and others give us a lump in our throat. But among the countless lines that have been captured on film, a few have actually changed the way we talk.
In The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, Dorothy says to her dog, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” People quote that line whenever they feel like the world around them is changing fast.
In 1948, the movie Casablanca gave us one of the most romantic phrases of all time, “Here’s looking at you, kid.” I won’t hurt your ears by trying to do Humphrey Bogart.
Cool Hand Luke, released in 1967, gave us the words, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate,” uttered by teachers everywhere.
From 1984’s This Is Spinal Tap, we get the line “These go to 11.” Christopher Guest’s character, an empty headed rock star, was referring to custom guitar amps that don’t max out at a measly 10 on the volume knob – no, his went to 11. Now, turning something up to 11 can mean any type of excessiveness.(1)
Three of my personal favorite quotable lines come from The Princess Bride. “Have fun storming the castle”, “Inconceivable” and “As you wish.”
The world of movies, of course, is not the only source of quotable lines that shape our lives. The Bible is also full of great phrases that are remembered and quoted in a variety of situations.
Psalm 23 gives us the comforting verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
From Jeremiah we get the assurance, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.”
1st Corinthians offers the insight that “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude.”
Paul has some classic quotable lines, such as “I can do all things through him who strengthens me”, from Philippians.
And from Romans, we are promised, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God…”
And of course, there is the verse that Martin Luther called “the Gospel in miniature,” John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”
Another classic quotable line comes from our text for today 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.”
What makes these lines from the Bible so special and so quotable? For starters, they are true – they capture an important insight about the nature of God and human beings. The Lord is as caring and protective toward us as a shepherd is toward his sheep. God really does watch over us, making plans for our welfare. Christ truly does strengthen us to face the challenges of our lives, and all things do tend to work together for good when we love and serve our Lord.
These biblical verses are concise summaries of bigger truth, in the same way that movie lines reveal something essential about their characters. Humphrey Bogart was a tough guy with a tender heart. Christopher Guest was the empty-headed rock star. And Dorothy was a naïve young girl who had never been away from home before. These movie lines are memorable because they are so true to their characters.
But great movie lines also shape us because they capture an entire story. When Dorothy says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” you know that she has entered the strange new world of Oz. When Chief Brody says, “We’re gonna need a bigger boat,” when he sees the giant great white shark for the first time, he captures the movie Jaws in a nutshell.
In the book of Ruth, we hear Ruth saying the line, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” This quotable line shapes our lives because it captures the entire story of the book of Ruth, bringing to mind the faithfulness of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi which, in turn, is a picture of God’s faithfulness to us. Her comment mirrors God’s faithfulness or “hesed” as it is called in the book of Ruth.
Ruth’s story is set back in the days when judges ruled over the people of Judah, and there was a famine in the land. A man of Bethlehem fled the famine, became an immigrant, and went to live in the land of Moab, along with his wife Naomi and their two sons. The man died in Moab, and his two sons married a couple of Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth. But then the two sons died, leaving Naomi without a husband or sons. She was living at a time in which life was – in the words of the philosopher Thomas Hobbes – “nasty, brutish and short.”
So what was poor Naomi supposed to do? She continued her journey as an immigrant, as a refugee, and she returned to Judah, where the famine was now over. But she knew that she had nothing to offer her daughter’s in law. So she encourages them to go back to their mother’s house.
All three weep, and then Orpah kisses Naomi and heads back to Moab – reluctantly, but she goes. Ruth however, clings to Naomi. Naomi encourages her to go as well, but Ruth says, “Do not press me to leave you or turn back from following you. Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.” When Naomi sees that Ruth is faithful to her and determined to stay with both her and her God, Naomi allows her to come along.
This memorable verse captures the story of Ruth’s faithfulness. The line is repeated in a variety of settings today, with the citation “Ruth 1: 16” appearing inside wedding rings and on tabletop photo frames. These words of Ruth, expressing her determination to be faithful to Naomi and to God, have actually shaped our lives and changed the way we talk and feel.
We remember these words because they reveal something essential about Ruth – she was a woman of deep love and faithfulness.
But we also remember these words because they summarize the entire story, and remind us that God used this loving and faithful immigrant woman in a powerful way. Ruth went to Bethlehem with Naomi, and there she met a man named Boaz. She married him and had a son who became the grandfather of David. Because Ruth remained faithful to Naomi and to God, she was able to become the ancestor of the greatest of Israel’s kings – and an ancestor of Jesus himself. God used Ruth and Naomi, both of whom were immigrants and refugees, to bring about the Divine Kingdom on earth.
Let’s not assume, however, that love and faithfulness always lead to a perfect Hollywood ending. When Ruth promises to stay with Naomi, she does not know that she will end up with a husband and a child. Jessica Tate, the director of the organization called NEXT Church, reminds us that when the two women arrive in Bethlehem, Naomi is bitter and anger. “At this point in the story,” she says, “we do not know that Ruth will become Naomi’s savior.” We don’t know that there will be a new family or plentiful food. All we are left with is Naomi’s emptiness.(2)
“This is where we so often find ourselves,” says Tate, “with a scary diagnosis, a relationship crumbling, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one. We find ourselves in these empty places, uncertain of the end of the story. We do not know how, or if, our fortunes, our security, our confidence, our hope will be restored.”(3)
So what do we do? In the movie A Beautiful Mind, a brilliant mathematician named John Nash suffers from terrible hallucinations. After a particularly threatening episode, his wife Alicia comes to him and asks, “You want to know what’s real?” Putting his hand on her heart, she says, “This is real.” She remains faithful to him in the face of an uncertain future, and near the end of his life, he wins the Nobel Prize.(4)
“This is real,” says Alicia Nash – you are not alone.
“This is real,” says Ruth to Naomi – I will be with you.
“We are left with simply a promise,” writes Jessica Tate, “a promise that we are not alone.”
This is God’s promise to us as well – nothing in all creation will separate us from our Lord.
“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge.” This promise from Ruth to Naomi is also God’s promise to each of us. You want to know what’s real? This is real – the love and faithfulness of the one true God - in every place and time, in the face of any hardship, loss or failure, is made real around this communion table.
That’s a quotable line that can shape our lives.
May God be praised. Amen.
1. HomileticsOnline for Nov 4th, 2018.