Gracious God, give us faith like Ruth, that in us your promises may be fulfilled. Amen

For those who track these things today is Halloween; as I’m sure you don’t need to be informed. So perhaps you are expecting fireworks in the sermon this morning. To be honest you may be disappointed on two counts. For the way the Church orders such dates, clergy have discretion about when to keep the day after Halloween, All Saints; today or next Sunday. It may be a bad idea to give clergy discretion any time as they may not know what to do with it!

For me it seems that keeping All Saints this morning, is like putting the cart before the horse, so at Epiphany, All Saints will be next Sunday, and today is simply Pentecost 23. However, if you want to dress up or hand kids candy later on that’s just fine with me. I’m waiting to see how the poor dog does with all the excitement; our first dog was absolutely terrified of fireworks, and thunder and lightning, so we shall see.

Last Sunday we were considering the faith of Bartimaeus, the man born blind who sought healing from Jesus. Today we encounter another person of great faith and trust which is expressed in another way.

The narrative begins by focusing on a woman called Naomi, who married a man called Elimelech, who between them had two sons. All were Ephrathites from Bethlehem. As was common in the Middle East there was a famine in their land and so the family moved to Moab in search of food. There they settled and the two sons married Moabite men. Sadly, it was here that, all three men, the father and two sons died. Naomi decides to return to her homeland of Judah as the famine was over. As widows, none of the women could easily remarry, so it is likely Naomi would fare better amongst her kinsfolk in Judah.

As they made their way to Judah, Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, Ruth and Orpah that they should return to Moab to be with their kinsfolk. At first, they both refused but Naomi pleads with them suggesting that she has no other sons for them to marry. Orpah greeted Naomi and started for home. Ruth however would not. Again Naomi asks her to follow Orpah and at this point, Ruth speaks these words …

‘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.’

As with Bartimaeus last week we see tremendous courage and faith on the part of Ruth. She had married a man from Moab and he had died. Now her mother-in-law plans to return to Judah but she gives Ruth the opportunity to stay behind in her home territory of Moab.

Ruth however has other ideas. She has married a man from Moab, but after his death is ready to go to Judah with her mother-in-law. 

Of course, there is a background here of loss, both of partners but also of homeland. Naomi and her husband and two sons are forced to leave Judah due to famine. They make a new life for themselves in Moab, so much so that both sons marry local women. All seems to be well for a short time and then first the father and next the two sons die. In her grief, Naomi decides she should return home to Judah. As she journeys Noami realizes it isn’t right to take her Moab-born daughters-in-law away from their homeland and kin and go with her to Judah. So she tries to send them back. Ruth however has devoted herself to Naomi and is clear that wherever she goes, Ruth will be with her. 

The gospel passage from Mark describes another encounter where the disciples are not getting along. Two weeks ago they were looking for positions of honour in the kingdom, this week they can’t agree about which of the Ten Commandments was the most important. The dispute (as it is described) is noticed by one of the scribes. This would usually lead to trouble for Jesus, but this time things are different. The scribe asks Jesus which is the first commandment, and Jesus answers that it is to love God with all his heart, soul, mind and strength. Jesus adds that he should love your neighbour as yourself. In other words, love God with all that you are, and seek to love your neighbour as you care and love yourself and your family. From these two commandments, Jesus was making clear, that if one can keep these two commandments, all the rest of the commandments will naturally follow. The scribe understands Jesus’ teaching; this is in stark contrast to the many times scribes test and disagree with his teaching. The last part of the reading suggests that Jesus realizes the scribe is able to understand the message he is offering and says to him: ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God’.

So for the second week in a row, the disciples and those close to Jesus, fail to comprehend his message, whereas Bartimaeus, and now an unnamed scribe, are able to understand the message that he is to be shared. 

We know that in different places in Mark’s gospel the scribes and Pharisees are testing and challenging Jesus. There were questions about paying taxes and the Sadducees question him on his views about the resurrection. At first glance, it might seem that again the scribe mentioned in this passage is planning to catch Jesus out and report back to the authorities in Jerusalem. According to one commentator, the very issues that we read about were live issues in the first century. 

However, this scribe not only understands where Jesus is coming from, he really takes the ideas a stage further by starting to consider how and what we think of our neighbours. To love our neighbours, especially those with whom we disagree is part of loving God (suggests Brobst-Renaud) but also how and what we think of our neighbours shapes the way our relationship with God. Loving God and loving neighbour shapes how we follow Jesus. 

Last week we tracked the profound faith of Bartimaeus, today we remember Ruth and the unnamed scribe. All of them put their faith and trust in God. In Ruth, this is implied, but with Bartimaeus and the scribe, their faith and trust in God comes shining through. 

Yet let the last words be from Ruth which she spoke to her mother-in-law, but could be seen in a way as to how we might follow Jesus Christ: 

‘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.’