Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Ruth – God’s Definition of Friendship
Scripture: Ruth 1:16-18
- Prelude – “Great is the Lord,” arr. by Lloyd Larson; Pauline Olsen, organist
- Welcome – Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 2001 – “We Sing to You, O God,” by Grace Grindal; Hymn leaders Patty Shoop, Janice Parks, Dick Berryman, Jim Stoffer; Donna Grubbs, pianist
- Special Music – “Just a Closer Walk With Thee,” by Anonymous; Gwen Western, pianist
- Scripture – Ruth 1:16-18; Deacon Kathleen Charters
- Sermon – “Aged Sages of Biblical Renown: Ruth – God’s Definition of Friendship,” Pastor Brad Beeman
- Hymn 377 – “It is Well with My Soul,” by Horatio G. Spafford; Hymn leaders Patty Shoop, Janice Parks, Dick Berryman, Jim Stoffer; Donna Grubbs, pianist
- Postlude – “Mother Earth, Father Sun,” by Linda Jarvi; Pauline Olsen, organist
So far, I’ve met with almost 90 of you. We’ve had a lot of fun getting to know each other.
But my favorite part has been when folks who I know have been friends for a long time suddenly stop and say, “I never knew that about you.” It means the friendship just took another step in its depth. Many of the friendships here are deep. Others are still new. Still, others are somewhere in between, so I thought this morning I’d talk a bit about friendship. Today I want to turn a bit more inward, and a bit more intimate and talk about God’s view of friendship; why it’s so important for us, and why it is among the things that are gifts of God. Before getting into this story of Ruth as an Aged Sage of Biblical Renown, let me just share personally, that friendships, particularly really deep friendships, are really hard for me. Part of it is a personality thing. I’m an introvert. I’m a five on the enneagram. Those in themselves make friendships hard. Part of it is my own history. I’ll talk about that in just a sec.
There is no doubt, but that Dorothy is my best friend. It’s always my hope that every spouse is a best friend of the other. But it can’t stop there. Friendships beyond that are vital, so let’s explore a bit about that. For me, the list of good friends has been way too small. After investing so much emotion, time, and experience with someone who became my best friend, his suicide caused something deep, a pain and void in my soul. Honestly, it’s been tough ever since. Yet, as you’ll hear, God is amazing, and continues to surround me, surround all us with opportunities for friendships. It got me to thinking about this story of Ruth. As I looked at it more deeply, what I found were ten elements that I believe God asks of us, and provides for us as friends. So, let’s take a look at the story of Ruth and Naomi.
This story is so meaningful. I believe it is in the Bible to help us understand what a friendship is; what it can cost, might cost, or even should cost each of us. The story of Ruth adopting Naomi should take our breath away. Like the others I’ve shared with you, there is so much more to this story than meets the eye. In the beginning, Naomi has a husband and two strapping sons. It would be every woman’s dream in that time; the ultimate blessing. But she loses all three in a very short time. She is left with no one but two daughters-in-law: Ruth and Orpah. The loss of her husband and both her sons places her in the most precarious position possible, particularly at that time. Widows who had no other family were very literally left with nothing. They often became homeless, powerless, and societal outcasts.
Naomi was left with no one (men); no one to take care of her, to love her, to support her, to feed and house her, to protect her, to walk this difficult part of life’s journey with her. That said, neither did her daughters-in-law; Ruth or Orpah. Naomi then does what she was supposed to do. She seeks to send them back to their families so that they might have someone to look after them. The law is clear that they are to obey. Orpah obeys and leaves. Ruth doesn’t. Ruth refuses, but refuses with some of the most beautiful words that can be found in scripture. And because of that, because she breaks with tradition, God doesn’t punish her, but surprisingly, blesses both Ruth and even Naomi in ways beyond imagination. Take a look at the book and you’ll quickly see what I’m talking about.
First, God blesses her with Ruth. But what’s ironic is that, for that blessing to be lived out meant that the younger Ruth had to disobey the elder Naomi. That was unexpected. Ruth then confronted Naomi by refusing to leave her. Ruth got angry with her mother-in-law. As gentle as the words appear to sound, they were in no way gently delivered. This is where translations to English get in the way. Ruth, in her disobedience no doubt got passionate and her response shows that. The words we read are powerful, emphatic, passionate, and emotional. Listen again as we think of friendship.
“Don’t…don’t urge me to leave you! I won’t! Don’t tell me to turn back or away from you! I will not obey you. I cannot obey you! Instead, I will do what my heart tells me to do. Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. I will spend no time away from you, to the point that where you die I will die, and where you are buried I will be buried. Everything you do; every challenge you face, every hurdle you cross, every success you have, every struggle you take on, I’ll be there with you, and we’ll take them on together. Every single one of them. And may the Lord deal with me ever so severely if anything but death separates you from me!”
Again, as I shared, Dorothy is my best friend. She is the best friend I’ve ever had. The relationship we share is fully based on this scripture. We used it in our wedding as a part of our vows. We seek to live it out with each other every day. We share a time for coffee every morning and have dinner at the table together most evenings. As special as that is, she can’t be my only friend, or even my only best friend. That would place too much weight; too much responsibility on her, particularly given what I do for a living. I think God would have me find others to be friends. And God has helped me do that, here at Trinity and here in Sequim. But pastor, why do we need friends beyond our spouses? It’s for our own health and well-being.
Friendships are vital if we are to stay healthy. We have an inherent need for others in our lives. We have an inherent need for close relationships; relationships with people we trust and who trust us. But sometimes, maybe more than sometimes, I think we struggle with some of that. Particularly if we’ve lost someone, we invariably ask, should I invest in another relationship? What if I disappoint them? What if they disappoint me? What if I can’t live up to their expectations or them of mine. Will I have time? I think questions like this are human nature. I think we’re all nervous about any kind of relationship…any kind, and even more so those that are deeper. But I’ll say it again, we all need people in our lives to whom we can turn, and those in our lives who can turn to us. And yes, it takes risk. It takes time. It takes sometimes shifting priorities. It takes creating shared memories, sharing ourselves, and offering our trust. And I think God helps us with all of that if we’re open to it. So, what do I mean by friendship, or even Godly friendships? Here’s what I mean.
The American Heritage College Dictionary defines friendship as: “a relationship between two or more people where those in the circle know, like, and trust the others in that circle. It is a relationship of allies who potentially struggle together in a cause; a comrade. A friend is one who supports, encourages, and sympathizes with another. A friend is often a warm and comforting presence.” In as much as I agree with all of that, I also think there is more to it.
Friendships are not always as warm and fuzzy, or as soft and gentle as many of those definitions. We see that in this story of Ruth. So, what does this story of Ruth have to say about God’s hopes for friendships? See if this makes sense. From the story we find:
- Friendship often means making sacrifices, but in a wide variety of ways and at a wide variety of levels depending on the depth of the friendship.
- Friendship often means talking about hard things, yet making a conscious decision that to talk about hard things is a part of the relationship; to do it healthily and lovingly.
- Sometimes, friendship means saying things that confront or challenge bad or unhealthy decisions, even unhealthy behaviors made by the other. It’s among the harder pieces of a healthy
- Sometimes friendship means just listening; saying little or even nothing, but just listening. That said, I believe deeper friendships are realized when we know specifically when it’s time to listen and when it’s time to speak.
- Friendship is deepened as is trust when asking for forgiveness becomes a part of the relationship. Offering forgiveness is essential as well.
- Often friendship means carrying the other when the other doesn’t have the strength to go on.
- Often, friendship means allowing ourselves to be carried when we don’t have the strength to go on… or even, yup, asking for help.
- Friendship is at times about compassion, and at times about confrontation. If there isn’t room for both, a friendship can get in trouble very quickly.
- Like a good marriage, friendship can often be about compromise. Disagreements can keep things interesting if there is trust in the relationship and a willingness to learn from the other.
- According to leadership guru, John Maxwell, friendship requires RISK. An acronym for: taking Responsibility; taking Initiative; making Sacrifices; having the kind of Knowledge that allows us to offer the other three to a friend.
Ultimately, I believe, friendship is about love. In the Greek, and in Christianity it is both agape and philia love; a combination of the two; a servant kind of love combined with a deeper relational love.
So, friends, as we think about friends, are there one or two or three names and faces that come to mind? If so, here’s what I’d like you to do. First and foremost, thank God for each of them. Second, and equally as important, pray for them – by name, and as you pray for them, picture them – and do it daily. Third, talk with them about your friendship. As difficult as that may be, it is important. Acknowledging the friendship is important, and thanking someone for friendship can be a powerful way to say thanks.
I believe God has created in each of us a friend-shaped void that can only be filled with someone who is not our spouse. We have an inherent need for others in our lives and it’s what makes a church one of the more important places, particularly today. A church is a place where we can find friends, and find friends at a multitude of levels. It is the best kind of community; a gathering of friends, or even friends to be. So friends, and I don’t use that word lightly, I believe God continues to place people in our lives who are, or have the potential to be, friends. I do believe that’s how God works. God is constantly seeking to help us, surround us with others, and allow us to be there for others. I believe it’s a reason that God has continued to bless the greater church, and God has certainly blessed this church with some really deep relationships; friendships that have lasted the test of time. God is also offering others that are just beginning. Yet, like every other part of life, good friendships involve cultivating, caring, and offering compassion. I’ve seen it over and over again. It requires time and effort, love and grace, patience, and protection. I believe friendship is a spiritual discipline as necessary as any other.
So, God is not done and even in a time as challenging as this, God is still at work, and there are those in your lives right now who hope we will find them and become friends. I’m watching it happen in my life, in Dorothy’s life, in your lives, and in the life of this church. God loves you enough to want you to be happy, healthy, and whole. Friendship helps get us there. Let’s pray.