- The Washington Times - Sunday, November 12, 2006

The following is from a recent sermon preached by the Rev. Graylan S. Hagler at Plymouth Congregational United Church of Christ.

I remember during my time in Mozambique seeing people driven off from their lands by conflict and violence and wandering in search of peace and food. They were weary and starving, with bloated bellies and tired eyes. They came from a place that had been home, to new places in hopes of finding some modicum of what was left behind: food, water, shelter and some degree of peace.

Today’s text [Ruth 1:1-18] is set in a similar circumstance. Elimelech, his wife, Naomi, and their two sons, Chilion and Mahlon, have left their homeland because of famine. They were refugees. They left home searching for food and shelter into a new land: Moab.

Elimelech died leaving his wife and children behind. But the sons eventually married. They took wives from their adopted country. Orpah and Ruth became part of this immigrant family. But after 10 years, not only one but both of the sons die, leaving their mother and their wives alone and destitute.

A spouse can die, just like in the text. A child can die, just like in the text. We can lose our family, just like in the text. We might have to start all over again, like at a job, or go back to school for more training and to start a career all over again. We find ourselves in places where we have to make decisions, and sometimes those decisions are difficult ones.

Naomi was going back home with nothing, and Ruth was going into a foreign land and to an uncertain future. Sometimes we stare into our futures with more questions than answers. At times we stand in the present moment and cannot imagine what tomorrow looks like. One thing is sure: Life can come at you fast.

Sometimes it is too fast for my taste. We can find ourselves looking at problems, things we don’t want to face, troubles, hardships and dealing with emotional trauma. Naomi and Ruth had this and more, and in those moments it becomes clear that there isn’t anything much that we can do about what comes our way.

Naomi and Ruth didn’t know what was before them, but they knew what was behind, and the good times they had that they could not bring them back.

They did not know what was before them, whether it was good or bad, or a blessing or struggle. But they did know that they had to go forward because there was nowhere else to run and hide. And Naomi and Ruth had the love of each other to face the future.

They seem to also have had faith. Faith allows us to face the uncertainty of life. It allows you to stand and face tomorrow and another tomorrow, with another after that until the sorrow you feel fades and the disappointment turns back into joy. Faith allows you to face difficulty with a trust and belief that says, ‘Hold on,’ and though you might not feel it yet, it will work itself out.

There is a process to facing our uncertain future. We go through what we go through, and in facing it we realize that we can endure through whatever comes. We shall not only endure, but through our endurance our character is perfected. Through the character-building experience hope starts to loom and we find that the hope is real.

Naomi and Ruth had been through something. They faced the uncertainty and the suffering. Eventually they came to understand the character that God had placed in them, and through it all found it was not hopeless but hopeful and God will deliver.

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