“The Lines That Shape Us”

November 11, 2018
Jonathan Rumburg
Ruth 1:1-18

Introduction

In our entertainment-saturated world, we hear a lot of lines from movies.  Most are quickly forgotten, but some make us laugh, some make us think and others give us a lump in the throat.  But among the countless lines that have been captured on film, a few have actually changed the way we talk.

In The Wizard of Oz, released in 1939, Dorothy says to her dog, “Toto, I’ve a feeling we’re not in Kansas anymore.” People quote that line whenever they feel like the world around them has changed.

In 1948, the movie Casablanca gave us one of the most romantic phrases of all time, “Here’s looking at you, kid.”

Cool Hand Luke, released in 1967, gave us the words, “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.” You’ll hear that one when people suffer a complete breakdown in communication.

There’s the almost cliché line from 1994 in Forest Gump, “Mama always said life was like a box of chocolates. You never know what you’re gonna get.” Said when contemplating the future, or even the past.

And then there’s the immortal, “You can’t handle the Truth” from 1992’s A Few Good Men, used for…well for all kinds of special moments.

All of these, and countless others, become lines that shape us.

As one who enjoys movies to the point of memorizing even obscure lines and using them regularly as part of my lexicon, I could go on and on.  But the world of movies, of course, is not the only source of lines that shape our lives.  The Bible is also full of great phrases that are remembered and quoted in a variety of situations.

Psalm 23 gives us the comforting verse, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (v.  1).

From Jeremiah we get the assurance, “For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the Lord, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope” (29:11).

First Corinthians offers the insight, “Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude” (13:4-5).

In Paul’s letter to the Philippians, we find the uplifting words, “I can do all things through him who strengthens me” (4:13).

And, of course, there is the verse Martin Luther called “the Gospel in miniature,” John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that God gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but have eternal life.”

Another classic comes from our text today in the book of Ruth: “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (1:16).

And why do these lines resonate with us?

For starters, they are true— they capture an important insight about the nature of God and human beings.  God is as caring and protective toward us as a shepherd is toward his sheep.  God really does watch over us, making plans for our welfare.  Christ truly does strengthen us to face the challenges of our lives.

These biblical verses are concise summaries of bigger truths, and shape us because they can capture an entire story.

When Dorothy says, “We’re not in Kansas anymore,” you know that she has entered the strange new world of Oz.

When Jack Nicholson shouts, “You can’t handle the truth!” we are getting a shorthand description of the entire movie, in which the way things get done is not as easy or pretty as one thinks.

Hear these lines, and they take you some place special and bigger.  They convey a deeper truth about what’s seen only on the surface.

When a person encounters a shocking realization and utters the single word, “Inconceivable!” fans of 1987 movie The Princess Bride are instantly aware of a deeper truth before them.

In the book of Ruth, we hear Ruth saying the line, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (1:16).

This line shapes our lives because it captures the entire story of the book of Ruth, bringing to mind the faithfulness of Ruth to her mother-in-law Naomi.  There is a deeper truth revealed through this line that now shapes our understanding of God.  This is a picture of God’s faithfulness.  It reminds us of Christ’s promise to never leave us or forsake us.

Move 1

But like every memorable movie line, there’s a lot more going on.

Back in the days when judges ruled the people of Judah, there was a famine in the land.  So Naomi and her husband and two sons fled the famine, and went to live in the land of Moab.  It’s there that Naomi’s husband dies, and her two sons marry Moabite women named Orpah and Ruth.  But then the two sons die, leaving Naomi without a husband or sons.

So what was Naomi supposed to do?

The famine was now over in Judah, so Naomi decides to return home, but she knew she had nothing to offer her daughters-in-law, so she said, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you” (v. 8).

Naomi loved her daughters-in-law, but she knew she could not give them additional husbands—making this point in an absurdly humorous line about having more babies and the women waiting until they were old enough to marry.

All three weep at the reality of the situation.  Orpah then kisses Naomi and heads back to Moab.  She leaves reluctantly, not with the brush-off “Bye, Felicia,” which is a line from the 1995 movie Friday, and still iconic today on social media as quick way to dismiss someone.

But Ruth takes a different path, and clings to Naomi.

Again, Naomi encourages Ruth to return home— as if her first invitation was a failure to communicate.

But Ruth won’t go, and says to Naomi, “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” (v.  16).

This memorable verse captures the story of Ruth’s faithfulness, and has become a repeated line and mantra in a variety of settings today—wedding rings and vows; table top frames and wall decor—all with, , the citation “Ruth 1:16”.

These words of Ruth, expressing her determination to be faithful to Naomi and to God, have actually shaped our lives.

We remember these words because they reveal something essential about Ruth: She was a woman of deep love and faithfulness.

But we also remember these words because they summarize the entire story, and remind us that God used this loving and faithful woman in a powerful way.

Remember… Ruth went to Bethlehem with Naomi, and there Ruth met a man named Boaz.  She married him and had a son who became the grandfather of David.

Because Ruth remained faithful to Naomi and to God, she was able to become the ancestor of the greatest of Israel’s kings— and of Jesus.

Move 2

Now while this is a great story, faithfulness is not easy—particularly in times of struggle and uncertainty.  We can’t assume love and faithfulness always lead to a perfect Hollywood ending.

When Ruth promises to stay with Naomi, she does not know that she will end up with a husband and child.

Jessica Tate, director of the organization NEXT Church, reminds us that when the two women arrive in Bethlehem, Naomi is bitter and empty.  She writes, “At this point in the story we don’t’ know that Ruth will become Naomi’s savior. We don’t know if there will be a new family or plentiful food.  All we are left with is Naomi’s emptiness.  And this is where we so often find ourselves.  With a scary diagnosis, a relationship crumbling, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one.  We find ourselves in these empty places, uncertain of the end of the story.  We do not know how, or if, our fortunes, our security, our confidence, our hope will be restored.”

So what do we do?  Because Tate is right.  What do we do?

We do as Ruth did.  We cling to what and who is right before us, and we do not let go.

When faced with the options before her, Ruth chose to stay—to cling to her commitment, to remain faithful despite the uncertainty, and emulate what God had shown and given her—the truth that God would never leave or forsake her.

Because though we don’t know what the future will hold, we can know for certain that God promises to never leave or forsake any of us.  No matter what.  Ruth clings to Naomi.  And she clings to God.

Conclusion

I love movies and use tons of movie lines in everyday conversation—much to the chagrin of my wife, and much to the joy of my brother who does the same.

I use “We’re gonna need a bigger boat” from Jaws when faced with an immense task.

I use “Don’t forget to waggle” from Tin Cup when reminding myself to relax and focus.

I use “Red 5 I’m going in” from Star wars before beginning a major task.

I use “Hey you guys” from Goonies to say hello to fellow Gen X friends.

I use “The Lord will guide you always” from Isaiah when facing uncertainty, and “Do not be conformed…but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” when trying to lead someplace new.

These and countless other movie lines and countless other lines of scripture are lines that have shaped me and continue to shape me.

You have many lines too.  Lines from movies, books, poems, scripture, loved ones—and they are all lines that shape us.

Cling to them.

And cling to this line…“Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge.” For this promise from Ruth to Naomi is also God’s promise to each of us.

It too is a line, and a truth, that can shape us.  Amen.

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