Sunday Sermon 31st October - Ruth: Like Job only different
The chosen hymns for this week, Jesus loves me, A small thing like a hazelnut, Fight the good fight and We are one in the Spirit can be found below along with a transcription of the sermon for those who prefer to read.
Ruth: Like Job only different
Reading Psalm 127
Welcome to our time of reflection for Sunday 31st of October.
Often the Bible surprises me.
One of the ways it surprises me is how one passage will link up with another passage and each passage will add to the other.
But sometimes we don’t see this because we don’t happen to read the passages close enough to each other for us to link the two.
So imagine my shock when after just finishing an intense series on Job, I then read Ruth. Up until then I hadn’t connected the two books at all, why should I, they are nowhere near each other in the Bible, well not in our Bible, in the Hebrew Bible they are only one book apart so maybe they saw them as being closer together in theme.
Usually when I have read one or other of the books, or part of the books, it might be months before I am reading the other one.
But having the two books read together, it is like they are the same book, one written from a male perspective, the other from a female perspective.
That’s usually not a coincidence, but when two books are the same, it is interesting to see what the similarities are, but then to notice what the differences are, because it is in the differences that the message is.
The book of Job is about suffering and how we cope.
The book of Ruth is about suffering and how we cope.
I had never noticed that before, I knew that they were both about suffering but I never noticed just how similar they were. I suspect because one of the books is called Job and the other is called Ruth. I know that sounds insignificant but the truth is that the book of Ruth isn’t about someone called Ruth. Because it is called Ruth we look at it through Ruth’s eyes. But the truth is that the book of Ruth is about Naomi. And if we had called the book Naomi we would have looked at the story through Naomi’s eyes, and Naomi’s story is a perfect parallel to Job’s.
The book of Job starts off with a wonderful family and they are doing well.
The book about ‘Naomi’ starts with a wonderful family starting a new life of prosperity in a new land and all is well.
Very quickly everything goes badly for Job and he loses nearly everything.
Very quickly Naomi loses everything and she loses nearly everything.
The book of Job finishes with a happy ending when a new family is created and the future looks wonderful.
At the end of the book about Naomi it finishes with a happy ending when a new family is created and the future looks wonderful.
In between the beginning and end in the book of Job, and the main part of the book, we have the struggle to work out how to understand what has gone wrong with Job.
In between the beginning and end in the book about Naomi, and the main part of the book, we have the struggle to survive what has gone wrong with Naomi and how they will cope.
It looks a like it is the same book, only one is written from a male perspective, and the other is written from a female perspective.
But what does that teach us?
Why is this important?
If I was cruel I would point out that men and women cope differently with suffering.
Job suffers a disaster.
How does he cope, he collapses and does nothing but talk about how miserable his life is. His mates come round and are completely useless, in some ways worse than useless.
Isn’t that typical of men?
I have a disaster hit me, so what do my mates do, we go round to the pub and drink a lot and moan a lot and try to find out who is to blame and sort out the world but nothing constructive is done in the end.
That’s the book of Job.
Naomi suffers a disaster.
How does she cope, she does something practical, she heads to where she can get practical help. And Ruth, the equivalent of Job’s friends, she does practical things, she goes to the fields and gets barley and bakes bread and makes sure that they can get by, even if it is for another day.
Isn’t that typical of women?
My wife has a disaster, the women get round and make sure that they have a meal cooked so she doesn’t need to worry about that. They don’t talk, they give her a hug. They make sure that she gets through the day; they don’t try to sort out the world, they try to help Roseanna.
I would just like to say that recently one of my daughters had a tough time.
I made her a macaroni cheese but I didn’t hug her because she had COVID.
Which, I would suggest, indicates that I am in touch with my feminine side but I am still an incompetent man emotionally.
Seriously though, why is this important?
When two books are so similar it usually isn’t coincidence.
They are often deliberately similar to let us know they are looking at the situation from different angles. And it is in the difference that we learn the important lessons.
And that is the case here.
If we looked at them as the same book with the names changed then really the only difference would be how the friends react.
We tend not to have any sympathy for the friends of Job even though they are the only ones who come to Job’s aide.
One of the things that struck me last week when we finished the book of Job is that all his brothers and sisters appear and give him clothes and a ring and support him as he starts off his future.
And when I read that it was like reading the book for the first time.
Brothers and sisters? Where did they come from? Where were the brothers and sisters when Job was suffering?
The only people that come to help Job are these friends of his.
His wife is no help, his extended family are no help.
The only people that come to Job’s aide are these friends of his, and we don’t like them.
The only person that comes to Naomi’s aide is Ruth.
Naomi’ goes back to Bethlehem because she has extended family there, but we have no indication that any of them give her direct aid, none of them seem to talk to her or help her. The only person that comes to Naomi’s direct aid is Ruth, and we love her, no one has a bad word for Ruth, we think she is wonderful.
Why the difference?
The difference is that Ruth walks through the suffering with Naomi.
You get the impression with Job’s friends that they aren’t suffering; they don’t have skin in the game.
That they are happy to talk with Job but they aren’t going to take him home.
At the end of the day they will go home and nothing will have changed in their life.
They hope Job’s life gets better, but they aren’t committed to getting Job’s life better.
That’s not the case with Ruth. With Ruth they are in this together. Ruth is completely committed to getting Naomi’s life better. She cares to a degree way above Job’s friends.
And that is the lesson that maybe we need to learn.
Jesus said that the world would know that we are his followers by his love; the type of love that Ruth had for her mother-in-law.
Too often as a church we have loved at a distance.
Like last year.
Last year we had two types of help that the church gave.
The first type of love was that we halved our benevolent fund. We set up a group and they distributed half of our benevolent fund to local charities. The benevolent fund was set up for a rainy day, and for a lot of the parish it was pouring down. So we gave to groups like the local food bank to help people.
It was important work, it was essential work, and I am so proud of the people who came up with the idea and made sure that we helped many people.
But I suspect that it didn’t change many hearts.
I suspect that it helped people survive, and that is important, but it may not have given people hope.
Yes it got people through a tough time, but what about the next time, would we be there for them, would we have run out of money, or would we be donating the rest of the money to another worthy cause?
The second type of love was that of individuals of the church reaching out to others. Face to face, there with them, there for them.
They may not have thought that work was as important as the first lot of help the church gave.
I would argue the opposite, that it was more important.
Because that was Ruth help.
It showed that we cared, we cared enough to be part of their lives, we cared enough to be there for them, we cared enough to risk being ill for them.
That help was not only useful, it was emotionally uplifting.
It not only gave them what they needed to survive, it gave them hope.
They didn’t need to worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow their friend would be there, because their friend was there today.
That was the difference for Job and for Naomi.
Job’s friends may or may not be there tomorrow, it depends if they could be bothered, if they hadn’t got offended by Job or felt as if he wasn’t doing anything to help himself.
Naomi knew that Ruth would be there the next day, and the next day and the next day.
If we really want to make a difference, and I believe that many of us do.
Then we can’t be like Job’s friends, making judgement calls and giving our wonderful words of guidance.
Instead we need to be like Ruth, that when they see us, they believe that we are on their side, that we really care, that we are going to be there no matter what.
That way, we really will make a difference.
Let us pray
How often have we come to worship to be spiritually fed, we have stuffed ourselves and felt the joy and hope and wonder of your presence in our lives.
Then we have done nothing with all the gifts that you have given us.
We put in our offering, then we move on to our day, our needs, our concerns.
The world needs disciples.
The world needs people that care. Not just with words, but with deeds.
As we leave this place, may we see that we are going out into a world that is struggling.
Our neighbours need the strength that you have given us, our neighbours need he hope that you have given us, our neighbours need the love that you have given us.
Help us to see our place in the world, to be there for our neighbours, to deeply care for them and reach out to them with the same generous concern that you have for us.
This we ask in Jesus name.
This we ask in Jesus name.