The book of Ruth speaks to our deep desires for faithful living, along with specific issues regarding faithfulness in the midst of the struggles of the pandemic. In this sermon, we hear the call to faithfulness and explore what it means.
In this sermon, Dan Kent explores the Book of Ruth and relates it to our experience in this pandemic. He begins with a summary of this short book of only four chapters from the Old Testament. In it, we read about Ruth and her mother-in-law, Naomi, and their relationship that developed after Naomi’s husband and sons died. Ruth, a Moabite, moved back to Bethlehem with Naomi and there found a husband and had a son; we are told these things healed Naomi’s heart.
This story touches on two deep human desires that are woven into us. The first is the desire to be faithful. Ruth’s faithfulness jumps off the page. This relates not only to the fact that we want people to be faithful to us, but also that we want to be persons who are faithful to others. We are made to have an unwavering commitment to others. In fact, when we are faithful, we are imaging God in a truthful way, maybe the most truthful way.
Faith, a topic which has been a primary focus in the church, is about trusting God. But faithfulness is also about being trustworthy to God. God calls us to be faithful and God wants to trust in us. God seeks to enter into covenant relationship with us and this this means that we have real “say so” to choose to be faithful or not. Faith and faithfulness work together. We must have faith in our covenant partner and we need to be faithful as covenant partners.
This begs the question: Can humans actually be faithful in this relationship with God? Many are hesitant to answer this question positively, often because of three reasons. The first is that many feel that a focus on faithfulness will lead to some kind of works-based relationship with God where we try to earn our salvation. However, Ephesians 2:8-9 makes it clear that while salvation is a gift, it does not mean that we cannot be faithful and do good things. The truth is that we can, a point that Paul makes in verse ten of the same chapter. We can do all kinds of good works, but none of them can actually save us.
The second concern that some have is that we might try to earn God’s love by doing a certain set of tasks. Romans 5:8 teaches that this is not the case, as God loves us when we are at our worst, before we ever know him. Acts 17:24-27 tells us that God loves in order to relate to us with hope that we might reach out to him. God loves us as we are, while at the same time loving us so that we might be different and respond in love.
A third concern is that a focus on faithfulness might lead to a form of spiritual perfectionism, a self-centered journey of inner transformation. Our spiritual growth is not something that happens in us but between us.
This leads to the second desire found in Ruth: our longing for solidarity. We yearn for unity and bonding with others. As we are faithful to each other we experience solidarity, the kind that expands to others.
There are two takeaways from this teaching, which we can begin to work out in our lives. The first is to make your spiritual discipleship public. Don’t simply make it a private practice. Give it away to others in a way that will bless them. We must make our discipleship social.
The second takeaway is to not let your circumstances dictate your faithfulness. This point is especially poignant in this time, when we are facing massive challenges due to the unpredictable circumstances of this pandemic.
We are called to respond in faith with faithfulness, to be persons who reflect the heart and life of Ruth. As with Ruth, who knows where God might lead us in the midst of the faithfulness.
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