November 12, 2006
1 In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.
2 The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there.
3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.
4 These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years,
5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food.
7 So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah.
8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, "Go back each of you to your mother's house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.
9 The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband." Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.
10 They said to her, "No, we will return with you to your people."
11 But Naomi said, "Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?
12 Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons,
13 would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me."
14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 So she said, "See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law."
16 But Ruth said, "Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die-- there will I be buried. May the LORD do thus and so to me, and more as well, if even death parts me from you!"
18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
When it comes to describing generations, we Americans, thanks to Tom Brokaw, use the adjective “Greatest” to describe the men and women who braved the Depression and fought in and prevailed during World War II. They were G.I. Joe and Rosie the Riveter. They were a tough and courageous generation, so there’s nothing wrong with calling them the “greatest.”
But what are we to call their children, the baby boomers? Many critics have called them childish, selfish, noisy, materialistic, more concerned about the cut of their clothes than cutting edge issues.
Leonard Steinhorn in a new book, The Greater Generation: In Defense of the Baby Boom Legacy, [New York: Thomas Dunne Books, 2006] argues that these insults are way off base. He says that the baby boomers have produced more positive changes in American life than any other generation--Environmental protection, Improved race relations, Women’s liberation. Tolerance, openness, and equality — these are all legacies of the baby boom generation.
Steinhorn, a professor at American University, argues that our country is far more open, inclusive and equal than at any time in our history, and he gives boomers credit for these positive changes. Baby boomers are, in his opinion, The Greater Generation.
About women, he writes that “the baby boom era has been one of breathtaking change — in a single generation, American women have effected one of the greatest social metamorphoses in recorded history.” Goodbye, Donna Reed, who played the wholesome housewife in the fifties sitcom, Hello, Condoleezza Rice and Nancy Pelosi.
Of course, the women born between 1946 and 1964 were not the first generation to experience and create breathtaking change. Open the pages of the Bible, and you will find women in both the Old Testament and the New who shattered traditional expectations and moved with the liberating power of God into a new and even more faithful future. For example, we have the story of Ruth in the Old Testament.
The book of Ruth begins by telling us that there was famine in the land, and one family was driven into exile in Moab. Moab is on the east side of the Dead Sea, a historic enemy and sometime friend of Israel. Migration due to famine was a way of life in the rain-based agriculture of Palestine.
It has happened even in America. During the Great Depression of the 1930s, and the dust bowl in Oklahoma, we have all seen the old black and white photos of Okies loading their scanty possessions onto trucks and fleeing to California. It’s truly ironic that this family in Ruth chapter 1 had to leave Bethlehem, which literally means “House of Bread.” But there was no bread. The Father of the family is Elimelech, the mother is Naomi. They take their two sons to the land of Moab in search of a better life. Elimelech died there, but his two sons married Moabite women —Orpah and Ruth. After about 10 years, both of the sons died and so Naomi was left with only her two daughters-in-law.
You might think of Naomi as a member of The Greatest Generation, struggling to make it through the Depression, while Orpah and Ruth are the baby boomers in this story.
Naomi realizes that her best option is to move back to Bethlehem where she has family who will help her. She begins her journey with Orpah and Ruth, but then she thinks that these Moabite women will have a better chance at remarriage if they return to their homeland. In the ancient Middle East, it was ordinarily the father’s job to arrange marriages for his dependent women—primarily sisters and daughters, but Naomi cannot do that. All that she can do is to say, Look, your best bet is to go back home, get married again, have a family.
“Go back each of you to your mother’s house,” urges Naomi. “May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me” (Ruth 1:8). Naomi knows that her relatives in Bethlehem might help her, because she is family, but they might not take care of two Moabite widows.
So, she sends her beloved daughters-in-law away, because she thinks that this is the best thing for them. She loves them and she acts like she loves them. She acts in their best interest.
Orpah kisses her mother-in-law and returns home. She accepts Naomi’s logic, but Ruth does not. She is determined to go with Naomi.
Ruth said, “Where you go, I will go, where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (v. 16).
This is a statement of faith. Whenever someone comes to join the church we ask them for a statement of faith. What do you believe? Ruth tells us what she believes. We wonder how she came to this belief. The book of Ruth does not give us any hints or explanations. It just reveals her astonishing and courageous faith.
The point is that God can call his people from any place at any time. God is not limited to Israelites, even though some Israelites thought he was. God is not limited to Americans, though some Americans think he is. God is not bound by our stereotypes. God reaches out to all people, and some of the most unlikely people respond in faith, even a Moabite widow.
Ruth turns away from a culture in which women are considered to be nothing without a husband. She refuses to be intimidated by a world that does not recognize her worth at all. She commits herself to moving in a new direction, trusting completely in Naomi and in Naomi’s God — the God of Israel.
Ruth is no mere boomer. She’s a member of a Greater Generation. The God of Israel smiles on Ruth’s determination to follow Naomi to Bethlehem, and in time Ruth meets and marries an Israelite named Boaz. Together, they have a son named Obed, who becomes the father of Jesse and the grandfather of David. Ruth, the Moabite, becomes part of the genealogy of Israel’s greatest king, and eventually this same genealogy will produce the baby Jesus, a child of the house and lineage of David.
Notice that this branch of the family tree begins not with pure Israelite blood but it begins with the bold and daring faith of a foreigner, a Moabite woman named Ruth, and with her determination to embrace the God of Israel and make a bold journey to a new and better land.
Turn now to the New Testament, to the story of Mary’s visit with Elizabeth. Mary has just received the news that she will become pregnant with Jesus, the Son of the Most High, “and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David” (Luke 1:32). Mary knows being pregnant without the benefit of marriage is not a great career choice, but she refuses to say no to this opportunity to be a servant of the Lord.
You can think of Mary, like Ruth, as a baby boomer — a member of a generation not afraid of taking risks and making changes. Mary goes to visit her older cousin Elizabeth, a card-carrying member of the Greatest Generation who is miraculously pregnant with John the Baptist. When Elizabeth hears Mary’s greeting, the child in Elizabeth’s womb leaps for joy, and Elizabeth cries out, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb” (v. 42). There is no generation gap to be found between Mary and Elizabeth — both come to see that they are on a journey of faith together, and this is a journey that is leading them into a future that only God can create.
When people are walking this path, there are no Great, Greater and Greatest Generations. There is only one generation — the people of the One Lord God. This group is not divided into old and young, black and white, male and female. It does not make distinctions between liberals and evangelicals, Protestants and Catholics, singers of praise music and hummers of hymns. Instead, this group is made up entirely of people who have discovered the truth of Mary’s song of praise: God’s mercy “is for those who fear him from generation to generation” (v. 50).
God’s mercy is for those who fear him … those who respect him … those who honor him … those who are in awe of him … those who follow him in complete and total trust. Fear in this case has nothing to do with being shocked, startled, or scared. Instead, it has everything to do with standing in awe before the maker of heaven and earth, the One who loved the world so much that he sent his only begotten Son.
We are one generation: God’s Generation. Together, we should be open, equal and inclusive of everyone who trusts the one Lord God and believes in his Son Jesus Christ. Those who fear the Lord and follow Jesus recognize no generational barriers, and no manmade barriers of any kind.
There was a time, writes Leonard Steinhorn, “when women were told to stay home, blacks and minorities were told to stay separate.” But in this new time, this time of God’s Generation, the only instruction is to fear the Lord, and follow Jesus.
There was a time when those who marched to a different drum “were pretty much told to stay silent,” says Steinhorn. But in this new era, we welcome every voice that wants to join in praise of the God who sent Jesus to save us. Every voice is welcome, and every voice is needed: Moabite and Israelite, male and female, Democrats and Republicas.
Paul said it in Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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