I’ve sometimes heard it said that every preacher has three sermons; just three topics that are talked about over and over again – just packaged a bit different each week. I think one of my topics is probably social justice. I sometimes feel like I have these enormous calls to action as I pray that we can find the strength and courage to go out and do nothing less than change the world.

There’s nothing wrong with that plea but I’m sure that it sometimes feels tiring and overwhelming. It’s a big ask and can make it feel like we have a lot on our shoulders.
One of my other three sermon topics is one that I don’t talk about as much as I should. Love. The love that God has for us; the love that we should have for God; the love that we need to find for each other.

Now, maybe (hopefully) love is always in the background. Even when I’m imploring you to turn the world around, love of God and of neighbor should be the driving force behind the call.

I’m not sure what my third sermon is. Maybe you’ll give me your opinion later.

But today I want to focus on love. Just like sermons, we may be able to group Bible stories into only a handful of topic: there’s faith in God, there’s a focus on strangers and sojourners, and – of course – there’s love. The story of Ruth and Naomi is one of the best, most explicit examples of all three.

Naomi and her family need to leave their homes because they are unable to survive. They leave the famine in Judah to live as foreigners in Moab. (If this was one of my social justice sermons, I’d probably talk about how we are supposed to care for others who come to this country seeking a better life – but that’s not what I’m talking about today.)
Naomi raises her family in this foreign land, her husband dies, her sons grow up and marry but then they die too. Naomi and her daughters-in-law Orpah and Naomi continue living as family until Naomi learns that the famine in her home country has ended.

Naomi plans to return, Orpah and Ruth join her for the journey. It’s unclear if Naomi has a change of heart of if she never intended for the other women to accompany her all the way back to Judah – but at some point, she dismisses them; tells them to go home. Orpah obeys, though reluctantly but Ruth refuses.

Even though she’ll be a foreigner in a strange land, Ruth chooses love over comfort. As Naomi tries to convince her to leave Ruth refuses to let go of her. The Hebrew here is “damaq” – to “cling to” to “cleave.” It’s the same verb used in Genesis to talk about the relationship between Adam and Eve – from the KJV: “And Adam said, This is now bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh: she shall be called Woman, because she was taken out of Man. Therefore shall a man leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh.”

The love between Ruth and Naomi is one that goes beyond tradition; it’s a love that has to do with more that the financial transactions of combining families or the biological ways of creating future generations. It’s not about husbands or children; it’s about a deep sense of love and support and care for each other. It’s about a love that’s strong as death; a love that’s stronger than the fear of being a stranger in a new land; a love that allows Ruth to follow the God of Israel – the God of Naomi.

Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God.
Wherever you die, I will also die and be buried there near you.
May the Eternal One punish me—and even more so— if anything besides death comes between us.

What if we were able to pledge that same kind of love and loyalty to God and to each other.
What if we were able to pledge the same kind of love and loyalty to God, to each other?

Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will be my people.
May the Eternal One punish me—and even more so— if anything besides death comes between us.

Preacher have three sermons; the Bible may not have more than three overarching themes. Surely, love is at the top of that list.

And it seems so obvious. “All you need if love,” right? Let’s just love each other.

100 years ago the “War to end all wars” ended. For at least a brief moment, it seemed that the world found it’s way to love and peace. But that peace, of course, was short lived.
In our 242 years as a country, the United States has been at war over 93% of the time – more than 222 years.

The story of Ruth and Naomi is a story reminding us to erase the artificial borders that we’ve created; it’s a story of non-traditional love that reminds us that we are called to offer a hand to hold and a blanket for the cold. It’s a call to give our hearts to one another regardless of race or clan.

As we travel the road of the unknown with Ruth and Naomi and one another, may we hear Christ’s voice of grace above the noise of division and war.

May our hearts of pain be healed by the living light that guides us on our way.
May one of our stories always be focused on love.

Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you live, I will live.
Your people will be my people.


Wherever You Go…