A sermon given by Rev. Eleanor B. McCormick on Sunday, July 23, 2017
I loved baking cakes with her. My Great Grandmother – GG I called her.
The sound of the spoon on the yellow ceramic bowl.The feeling of the old metal sifter – in your hands – as it worked on the flour. The smell of simple southern vanilla pound cake escaping the oven as it baked.
We cheated that day – instead of leaving the eggs and butter out on the counter overnight we put them in the sun on warm, red, terracotta tiles on the front porch. It was early morning and with all the ingredients ready
We sat at the wooden kitchen table and we began to stir, taking turns in the long effort to incorporate each ingredient with love and care. “Did you get all the grit?” (referring to the sugar on the bottom of the bowl?) “Now not so fast…”my GG would tell me.
The cake was coming along…but as this cake went… the stirring went.
Stirring clockwise (and only clockwise!) until I felt my arm might fall off and while we were making this cake, taking turns stirring in eggs – one at a time – she began to tell me, in her own way, a story …
They were running out of food, there had been no cake for many months.
Now this wasn’t so unusual where they lived because they lived in a place with very little rain, and big clouds of hungry grasshoppers, and rocky dry soil– but in this particular year, a man from a place called Bethlehem (you’ve heard of that place right? She asked) decided to move his family, wife and two sons, to another land to live –a place where they hoped to find food. This place was called Moab. I remember her making a side note – now it’s important to know here that – the people in these two places were not friends. The family called themselves Israelites and they were traveling to live with people called Moabites. There was a long history of them not getting along. She continued…Now after the tragic loss of her husband and her sons in Moab the wife and widow, Naomi, returned to Bethlehem when she heard there was food again. She set out from the land of Moab to return to the land of Judah. This move took courage. She said, to her daughters-in-law, do not follow me, but one daughter-in-law, Ruth, clung to Naomi.
And while I don’t recall the whole story, as G-G told it, I do remember her repeating these words by heart…
“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.
And I do recall G-G mentioning the connection she felt with Naomi and Ruth – as a widow herself. I was a young woman of 10 sitting with a woman of 104. My story was overlapping with the story of Ruth and Naomi. What I remember most were her final words. Ellie B., as she called me, this is a story about strong, fearless and bold women. Without these strong women we wouldn’t have Jesus and without Jesus we wouldn’t have a story.
Stories matter in our lives.
Stories matter for our lives.
The story of Ruth is the only Biblical story named after a woman – and a foreign woman at that. Despite Ruth being a Moabite she would have known the stories of Naomi’s God. She had faith in Naomi and she was deeply loyal to her mother-in-law, but the stories Ruth knew of Naomi’s God gave her the added courage she needed to offer Naomi not only her constant companionship, but her current life, her past and future life her Moabite nationality, religion and customs all that she has been, is, and will be.
Yes, she was faithful and loyal to Naomi, but she also knew the stories that assured her of the fact that God would turn Naomi’s fortunes around. I believe that knowledge of these stories gave Ruth the courage to insist that Naomi’s people will be become her people and their God will become hers.
I believe that Ruth knew the stories.
Now Boaz, knew the stories too. Boaz was a wealthy and prominent figure in Naomi’s hometown, a character that is introduced later in the Book of Ruth.
He knew the stories that were in those days laws. The stories of Boaz’s people that prescribed protection for the foreigner, the stranger, the orphan, the widow. Not only protection, but sustenance. A wealthy landowner like Boaz was told, through story, that he should share the harvest with those in need – leaving at the margins of every field room for those who glean – and that is exactly what he did.
Boaz knew the stories.
Boaz loved and respected the stories.
Therefore Boaz lived the stories.
In his living of the stories
Ruth & Naomi were given a chance to live too.
Their lives were saved by the grain that was left for the gleaners and the protection Boaz afforded.
It wasn’t until I attended a wedding in my early twenties that I would hear Ruth & Naomi’s story again. (a story commonly used in Christian weddings because it expresses so beautifully the themes of loyalty, commitment and love. Markers/promises that we hope to live into as our own love stories unfold.)
And it wasn’t until Divinity School that I learned what my GG meant when she said:
“Without these strong women we wouldn’t have Jesus and without Jesus we wouldn’t have a story.”
In my first semester of graduate school I learned Jesus’ Genealogy and how Ruth became the great grandmother (GG) of David and Jesus descended from David. This is how we are told, in the Gospel of Matthew, that it works:
Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son, named Obed.
Obed’s son was Jesse and Jesse’s son was David.
Following the branches up the tree of Jesse,
We learn of Joseph – husband to Mary and would-be legal father of Jesus. Ruth is thus the ancestor of Jesus.
She is named as one of five women in the genealogy found in the first chapter of the Gospel along with Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba and Mary.
Today we know Ruth’s story because we know Jesus’ story.
My GG had emphasized Ruth’s importance to me. I knew women mattered in the Bible because of GG, …now I had a new understanding of just how much.
I love the story of Ruth because it speaks of the courage of women.
It tells a story of bold, brave and lionhearted women – who overcome real grief and true tragedy. It is from beginning to end a story that dwells extensively on women’s experience and women’s voices.
I love the story of Ruth because it helps me to answer the question:
What does God ask of me?
It reminds me of one of the core tenants of my faith, that God calls upon me, on us, to play a significant role in bringing redemption to the world. To take responsibility for ourselves and the world around us and yet to know that we are never alone.
In Rabbi Ruth Sohn’s words
“…Teshuva, “return” refers to our movement toward God. Ge’ula, “redemption” refers to God’s movement toward us. The Book of Ruth teaches us that when we take steps toward God, God also moves toward us, although we may not always be aware of it….
That is to say, we look to You, God, to do what only God can do to bring us to a place of wholeness. We look to You, God, to strengthen and enable us to do what only we can do to bring wholeness and peace to the world.”
Can you name what you love about this story?
I ask that question, because today there is a resurgence in storytelling. And storytelling is all about falling in love. Falling in love with a story, a character, a memory. Storytelling is having a major comeback in our UCC churches. Vince and Rebecca, two friends of mine have just started a church in the UCC based on storytelling…
It is called Gilead Chicago and at Gilead
people tell stories — in worship every week, at their monthly storytelling events, squeezed onto someone’s couch at a potluck —people tell true stories from their own lives.
We tell them to get to know one another. We tell them because sometimes it helps to share. We tell them because it feels good to laugh.
We tell them because we believe that, at its heart, every story is a God story. God is present in our ordinary, everyday lives: standing beside us at the bus stop, woven between the lines of our conversations, lying under the table hoping to be fed.
Telling our stories helps us see the holiness we may have missed the first time through. It lets us claim our daily grind as a spiritual journey. It changes the way we live, and frequently, it saves our lives.
The only way our children will know our stories is if we tell them.
The only way new seekers will know our stories is if we tell them.
Like the story GG took the time to tell me.
Jesus knew this to be true.
…remember the Gospel reading from last Sunday…
(Matthew 13:31-35 The Message (MSG))
Where Jesus says…
31-32 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like ….
33 Another story. “God’s kingdom is like ….
34-35 All Jesus did that day was tell stories—a long storytelling afternoon. His storytelling fulfilled the prophecy:
I will open my mouth and tell stories;
Maybe we are called to fulfilling the same prophecy.
Maybe we are called to open our mouths and tell stories
To bring these stories out into the open…
- Where can you imagine that happening at Plymouth?
- Whose story do you want to know?
- What story do you want to tell?
This summer we are proclaiming and preaching (on and from) female-centered texts. Beginning last Sunday with Deborah and continuing next week with Miriam. We are taking a look at Women in the Bible believing that their stories deserve to be central and essential – not peripheral and occasional.
- If we embrace the role of storyteller we might be more motivated to encourage inter-generational relationships between women – and men.
- If we embrace the role of storyteller we might be better equipped to love our neighbor and care for the foreigner/stranger
I would go so far, as to say that in knowing our story – because the story actuals gets told – may lead to a more just world for all. When someone asks….
- Why are you including that person?
- Why are you welcoming that person?
- Why would you risk that?
You can say because the story tells me so….
Read the stories.
Tell the stories.
Love the stories.
Live the stories.
These stories are essential to our self-understanding and our ongoing relationship with God.
May it be so and may it be soon.
 Reading Ruth Contemporary Women Reclaim a Sacred Story
Edited by Judith A. Kates and Gail Twersky Reimer
Ballantine Books, c 1994, p. 26
Chapter by Ruth Sohn
Verse by Verse: A Modern Commentary
Marjorie Procter-Smith, an esteemed professor of preaching and worship notes,
“[Preaching, proclaiming and amplifying the Biblical voices of women]
enables communities [like ours] to hear these stories not as peripheral and occasional but as central and essential to our self-understanding and our ongoing relationship with God… [the intentional inclusion of women’s stories] in the church’s proclamation invites a deeper hearing of the Word of God.”