There are no outcasts in the kingdom of God

Based on: Ruth 1:15-18

In our sermons this summer we have followed the family tree of Jesus Christ beginning with Adam and Eve, through Noah, Abraham, and the Children of Israel governed by Moses.  Today we move forward in time and find the Israelites living the land of Canaan just as God promised Abraham they would.  It is the time after entering the land of Canaan but before King Saul and King David ruled over them.  As long as they remained faithful to God, things would go marvelously well for them, but every time they started to slip away – when God’s Word and church attendance became less important – God would bring enemies to trouble them so they would turn back to God.  During this time period we see Ruth playing her part in the coming of the Savior.

Ruth was not an Israelite.  She lived in the country of Moab to the East of Israel.  When God allowed famine in the land of Israel, a woman named Naomi, along with her husband, and her two sons moved from Bethlehem in Israel to Moab, to the area where Ruth lived.  They were looking for a place to live where they would have food for their family, but while they were in Moab Naomi’s husband died.  Mixed with her grief was the joy of seeing her family grow when her sons married.  One of them married Ruth.  There seemed to be hope for the future of her family.  God had other plans.  Naomi’s two sons died, and Naomi had no one to support her.  When she heard that there was no more famine in Israel she decided to go back home.  Her daughters-in-law were going with her, but she told them they would be better off in Moab.  It would be difficult for them as foreigners in Israel.  Moab was their home.  One daughter-in-law turned back, but Ruth could not be persuaded.  She was going to stay with Naomi.

Why would she do that?  It wouldn’t be easy.  Just consider what it would be like to try to live – not just visit, but live – in a foreign country where the language is different and the culture is different.  And I’m not just talking about going to Wisconsin!  God designed the laws he gave Israel to be a hedge around them, to make them different and keep them separate from the peoples around them.

Ruth could very easily have felt like an outcast.  As they went back to Bethlehem people would know she was different, and you know it often happens that people look down on those who are different.  They are often not considered as part of the group.

Have you ever felt like that?  Not just by living in another country, but have you ever felt like you were not welcome as part of the group?  It happens sometimes in grade school where one person is not welcome in a certain group of kids.  It continues in high school.  I remember having my own friends, but feeling uncomfortable or even unwelcome among another group.  It even happens frequently among adults in the workplace according to one survey I read recently. 

Take a minute to think about the people you talk to or interact with here at St. John’s.  I’m not saying you have to be best friends with everyone, but are there some people you avoid?  As you talk to people here at church is it possible that someone might get the idea that they are not welcome as a part of your group?

Getting back to Ruth, why would she want to go where she would be different than those around her?  The answer is in her words to Naomi, “Your people will be my people and your God my God.”  Naomi knew that she was already a member of the “in” group.  She was a part of God’s family.  In that group it doesn’t matter how “different” you are in the eyes of the world, you are accepted and welcomed as a part of the group.  We are also part of that circle of friends.

Along with Ruth we are included in the family of God because Jesus was excluded for us.  He came to those who should have embraced him and they rejected him.  The Pharisees looked down on him because he was different and they finally killed him because he didn’t fit in to their group.

Even worse was the rejection of God he endured for our sake.  He was excluded from God’s blessings so we could be included.  God considered him an outcast and punished him for all the times we treat others as an outcast.

Ruth was not an outsider in the land of Israel for very long.  When Naomi and Ruth made it to Bethlehem, Ruth did what she could to provide food for her and Naomi.  She went into the fields and picked up the leftovers after those who were harvesting the grain went through the fields.  It was not much better than begging, but she worked hard at it.  A man named Boaz, the man who owned the field, noticed her hard work and eventually married Ruth.  God also used Ruth in a special way.  A few generations later King David was born, a descendant of Boaz and Ruth.  Many generations later Jesus Christ, our Savior, was a descendant of Boaz and Ruth. 

Ruth was not an outcast when it came to God’s family and she was not an outcast in the nation of Israel.  She belonged.  That is one of the great comforts of the Christian faith – you belong to the family of God.  When someone comes into a physical congregation of believers, the physical congregation should reflect that spiritual truth.  

How can we improve those family ties here at St. John’s?  Try this: set a goal for yourself to know the names and a little about ten more members of this congregation that you did not know before, new members as well as old.  It may not always be easy, but it is a goal that will certainly strengthen this community of believers.

Ruth was an outsider brought into the group by God.  Just like all of us she was an outcast and not a member of the group, but just like the rest of us God included her and made her a part of his family.  If you know what it is like to feel excluded, take comfort that you are included in God’s family.

Amen.

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