“Stay With Me – Sermon 1”
Sermon delivered by Pastor Daniel Mejia
St. Matthew’s United Methodist Church
January 25, 2015
Here is one of the many miracles of marriage that I never thought would happen to me. Obviously, just to be clear, the first and most important miracle is that Michelle married me; secondly is the fact that Michelle’s love for musicals is rubbing off on me. Please don’t tell her that, let’s keep that between us. Just the other day we went to the movies to see the musical “Into the Woods.” This musical/movie was inspired by the Grimm Brothers’ fairy tales of “Little Red Riding Hood”, “Cinderella”, “Jack and the Beanstalk”, and “Rapunzel.” The movie is a combination of all those stories plus one more story about a childless couple, who set out to end a curse placed on them by a vengeful witch. Long story short, if you can go to see it, do it, you will like it. However, there was a song in the movie called “Stay with Me” sang by the evil witch who in her perverse love for her adopted daughter Rapunzel, doesn’t want to let go of her. The witch sings to her daughter, “Don’t you know what’s out there in the world?… Stay at home. I am home. Who out there could love you more than I? What’s out there that I cannot supply? Stay with me. The world is dark and wild.” Sure, this song is from a fairy tale where dragons, giants, and witches rule the world but the feelings and desires of a possessive mother are not too far from the way we feel about our children or our parents felt about us. Stay with me becomes in the movie a song from a complicated and manipulative mother, hoping that her young daughter will never leave her. What a complicated family relationship, isn’t it?
Needless to say, if we are honest with ourselves, we will all admit that some or all of our family relationships are complicated, messy, and sometimes I would venture to say, even destructive. And sure, we can chose to ignore our families or run away from our families or fight with our families. But I wonder this morning, is there a different way? Is there a better Way? One thing that I know for sure is that God wants to press us into the right relationships with our families because when we say we love God and the world hears that message, it makes sense that we will understand that to mean learning to love our families, especially when it’s difficult.
Our Hebrew Scripture this morning is from one of my favorite books of the Bible – Ruth. It is a story that turns everything upside down. It is a story of two women, a new family unit, in an era when women were often not used as the primary characters or stars of stories. We encounter first Naomi, an Ephrathite from Bethlehem, who is married and has two sons. As famine falls upon Bethlehem, a region known for its harvest and fertility, Naomi and her family are forced to migrate to an enemy land by the name of Moab. They lived in Moab for at least 10 years, and Naomi’s two sons both took Moabite wives. And then the nightmare happened. A nightmare worse than the earlier famine that caused them to leave their homeland and live in enemy territory. Things have gone from bad to worse… things are unsettled…and there is great anxiety. Naomi’s husband and both of her two sons died, leaving Naomi and her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth alone, widowed, husbandless.
This was the unthinkable nightmare for Naomi. Tragic loss. Now alone in a strange land with no clan or kin, no support system, far from her original home, from her blood family, and without any men left in her family – for a female at this time – this would have been a disaster. Naomi was too old to have any more children, so she would be the end of her family line, which also was considered a disaster in her Hebrew culture. So to say that life was complicated would be an understatement. Naomi’s family life had drastically changed
In the midst of this terrible situation, Naomi decided to head home to her own land, as the famine had ended. Maybe she’s thinking she could reconnect with her extended family there. She is also thinking that it’s best to cut ties and move on alone, so out of compassion and concern for her daughters-in-law, she urged them to go back to their mother’s homes, because they would have the possibility of marrying again and a greater chance of survival and security. Her daughter in-law Orpah we know, obeys and stays home. But Ruth is defiant. She says to Naomi, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” (Ruth 1:16-17)
So, here is Ruth, who has the perfect way out to start a new life. Here is Ruth who is still young and able to find a husband, and be free according to the Jewish Law… but instead she decides to stay with her mother in-law. Naomi presses Ruth away to shield her from further suffering, but Ruth insists that she’s staying. How many times have we been in that place with our own families when we think that the right thing to do is to spare our families from our own suffering, our illnesses or crises?
I don’t need to tell you that family relationships are complicated. You already know that. You already know that each case, each sibling, each parent, each son or daughter have very different expectations of you. But maybe what we need to consider today is not what our families expect from us but what God expects from us. Maybe what we need to do is to consider the possibility that God is asking us to see our families in a different way.
Maybe in order to truly be a family there has to be real sacrifice. Maybe Naomi understands that she’s a widow, not an esteemed position in society, and she doesn’t want Ruth or Orpah to experience that oppression or stigma. She sacrifices her only family, out of love for these two women, who have a chance at something more. And while Orpah takes that chance, we acknowledge it to be good, as she sacrifices the safety of her family for the unknown. Then Ruth blows the doors wide open when she sacrifices her freedom in order to stay with Naomi, promising to stay with her no matter the cost. Suggesting that even death wouldn’t separate them.
I don’t want to sound simplistic or insult your intelligence this morning but maybe we need to allow God to re-define the way we treat and care for our families. Maybe we might interpret this story of sacrifice into our own conversations, and moments with our spouses and children. And as we encourage sacrifice, please know that if you are experiencing an abusive relationship God doesn’t ask you to sacrifice yourself for that. But what about our relationships with our brothers and sisters or even those moments when we begin to parent our parents? Sacrifice for our families comes in different ways. Maybe for you it means to stop helping and enabling your brother or sister or parent. Maybe it means putting the phone down and shutting the computer down early so you can talk and spend time with your family–this one is not just for the kids but for adults.
Maybe it means going the second mile for your nephew who can’t seem to get his act together. Maybe it means reconciling a family feud. Maybe it means listening more and talking less. Maybe it means not having to be right about everything. Maybe it means staying with them in prayer. Staying with them at the table. Staying with them when they hurt. Staying with them when they don’t know how to say what’s wrong. Staying with them when they don’t understand you.
“A River Runs Through It” is a movie based on the true story about two boys, Norman (Craig Sheffer) and Paul (Brad Pitt), growing up in 1920s Missoula, Montana with their father, a Presbyterian minister. Much of the film is about the two boys returning home after becoming troubled adults. One of the sons died, the one who was a gambler and wasted his life away. His father did the funeral service for his son. Here’s the prayer that the father shared. “Each one of us here today will at one time in our lives look upon a loved one who is in need and ask the same question: We are willing to help, Lord, but what, if anything, is needed? For it is true we can seldom help those closest to us. Either we don’t know what part of ourselves to give or, more often than not, the part we have to give is not wanted. And so it is those we live with and should know who elude us. But we can still love them – we can love completely without complete understanding.
Here’s the truth about family relationships: many times no matter what we do there are some things we can’t control about our families. You can be the most faithful and Christian parent but that doesn’t guarantee that your kids will grow up to be Christians. But does your pain and disappointment mean you walk away from them? No, your prayers, your love, your sacrifice for them is needed more than ever. And when you can’t pray, when you can’t hope for them, we can pray for them and we can hope for you.
Today… as we sit here, we are God’s family. Out of God’s love for each of us, God sacrificed God’s Son so that we might experience the full faithfulness and love of Jesus the Christ in our families. Giving us the power to sacrifice fully for others so that they know that God will stay with them. Amen.