WORSHIP-MAY 10, 2020

FIRST PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH ~ JANESVILLE, WISCONSIN
SUNDAY, MAY 10, 2020
MOTHER’S DAY

Thank you for your continued prayers for the ministry and mission for our church and for your financial support. They are truly appreciated.

THE CALL TO WORSHIP
Almighty God, who has so ordained life that we should live together in families, bound into a strong unit by our love for one another: Grant that we may express gratitude for our parents, and especially our mothers. May we honor them as we recall their loyalty and love, their kindness and patience, their sacrifice and perseverance. May you inspire us that we may fulfill their prayers for us, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

HYMN                                                                                          “God of Grace and God of Glory”
                                                                         God of grace and God of glory, on your people pour your power;
                                                                        crown your ancient Church’s story, bring its bud to glorious flower.
                                                                                                 Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
                                                                               for the facing of this hour, for the facing of this hour.

                                                                             Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore;
                                                                                 let the gift of your salvation be our glory evermore.
                                                                                              Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,
                                                                            serving you whom we adore, serving you whom we adore.

THE CALL TO CONFESSION
Whoever believes in Christ will not be put to shame. Confident in this promise, let us confess our sin before God and one another.

THE PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Almighty God, your word offers freedom from sin, but we confess that we have not obeyed your word. We have harbored malice toward our enemies; we have been deceitful in our relationships; we have been insincere in our commitments. Forgive us our sins and lead us to genuine repentance that we may grow in the joy of repentance. In Jesus name we pray. Amen.

THE DECLARATION OF FORGIVENESS
Sisters and brothers in Christ, once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. In the name of Jesus Christ we are forgiven. Amen.

THE PRAYER OF ILLUMINATION
Lord, as we listen to your holy Word, open our hearts to the power of your Spirit, call us out of darkness, and lead us into your marvelous light. Amen.

THE OLD TESTAMENT READING                                                                                                                                                                      Psalm 31:1-5, 15-16
In you, O Lord, I seek refuge; do not let me ever be put to shame; in your righteousness deliver me. Incline your ear to me; rescue me speedily. Be a rock of refuge for me, a strong fortress for your name’s sake lead me and guide me, take me out of the net that is hidden for me, for you
are my refuge. Into your hand I commit my spirit; you have redeemed me, O Lord, faithful God. My times are in your hand; deliver me from the hand of my enemies and persecutors. Let your face shine upon your servant; save me in your steadfast love.

THE SERMON TEXT                                                                                                                                                                                                           Ruth 1:1-18
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. 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. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 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, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. 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. 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.

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. 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. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 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? 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, 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.”

Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 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. 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!” When Naomi saw that she was determined to
go with her, she said no more to her.

THE SERMON                                                                           “MOTHER’S DAY 2020”                                                              Ruth 1:1-21; Psalm 31`:1-5, 15-16
Do any of you remember what it used to be like to drive a car before power steering or power brakes, before automatic transmissions or air conditioning, before seat belts? Let’s stop there for a moment. Before seat belts, parents could pack eight kids into a family car, ages one week to 18 years, with no restraining thoughts or devices. Automobile safety is much more regulated than it used to be. Today we have laws requiring children under four years and forty pounds to be buckled into some sort of child car seat. You can’t even bring your newborn home from the hospital until they make sure a child car seat is in your car. For slightly older kids there are booster seats. With the mandatory installation of airbags, no children under the age of 12 are supposed to be allowed in the front seat at all for fear of the force of the exploding air bag causing them more injury than any crash.

Before all these mechanical safety devices, however, some of us no doubt grew up with a different kind of child-restraint system. Judith Viorst
in her book, Imperfect Control: Our Lifelong Struggles With Power and Surrender, reminded us of this when she wrote: “This year I received a Mother's Day card that pictured a mother driving a car, her son in the passenger seat and her outstretched arm protectively flung across his chest. I’ve heard a great deal from my sons about my overprotective tendencies but I think that this card’s message said it best. The message said, ‘To Mom, the original seat belt.’

Today is Mother’s Day and it trounces poor Father’s Day by a longshot. Hallmark estimates that 150 million Mother’s Day cards will be sent this year (but only 95 million Father’s Day cards), making Mother’s Day the third largest greeting card holiday of the year.

Americans spend an average of $105.00 on Mother’s Day gifts, $90.00 on Father’s Day gifts. The phone rings more often on Mother’s Day than Father’s Day.

The “Mother" of Mother’s Day is Anna Jarvis who spent forty years developing the concept. Her drive to create the holiday reached fulfillment in 1914 with a presidential proclamation by Woodrow Wilson. However Anna had a concern that this special day would be exploited and become the financial backbone of the greeting card industry. But in coming up with the idea, Anna Jarvis did us a real service.

On this Mother’s Day I want to focus on someone who made her mark in history as a MOTHER-IN-LAW. That may seem a bit strange because
of all the mother-in-law jokes that are around. For whatever reason mothers-in-law get a bad rap. For example, you have heard the classic definition of mixed emotions: watching your mother-in-law drive off a cliff in your new Rolls Royce. I even heard of one preacher who asked his congregation at offering time to “give as if you’re giving to send your mother-in-law back home.” It is an old problem. Even in ancient Rome, the writer Juvenal said, “Domestic concord is impossible as long as the mother-in-law lives.” Well, none of that is really fair. There are lots of genuinely terrific mothers-in-law and I had one of them.

The mother-in-law to whom I would call your attention to today is Naomi. Of course, she was a mother too. She was a good mother and a super mother-in-law. The story takes place in the time of the Judges when Israel had no kings. It was a time of disobedience, idolatry and violence. This was a time when many believed that they could do whatever they thought was right. They could do what felt good regardless of if that
was the case or not.

But there has always been that kind of thinking. Jean-Jacques Rousseau, the Swiss philosopher and author, followed this line of thinking. He said: “In the depths of my heart, traced by nature in characters which nothing can efface. I need only consult myself with regard to what I wish
to do; what I feel to be good is good, what I feel to be bad is bad.”

Serial killer Jeffrey Dahlmer agreed with this view. He based his sense of morality on his own feelings. During police interrogations after his
arrest and confession he said: “If it all happens naturalistically, what’s the need for a God?” Can’t I set my own rules? Who owns me? I own myself.” Added to this attitude and the idolatry, violence and corruption was a famine had struck the land of Israel. Families were forced to do anything they could just to come up with enough food to survive. At least one family, and probably others came to the place of leaving the country all together just as the Irish left their native land in the 19th century because of the potato famine and came to America to seek a better life. Elimilech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion, left their native Bethlehem, the town whose name ironically means
“house of bread” and went to Moab.

That was a big decision even though Israel and Moab had a certain common heritage, the Moabites having been said to be descendants of Abraham’s nephew, Lot. Through the years though, as relatives often do, they had had their troubles. During Israel’s wilderness wandering toward the land of Canaan, they had come to Moab and asked for permission to cross through that territory, but the request was denied. As a result, Israelite law prohibited any Moabite from coming into the Jewish congregation for ten generations, not forever, but for a long, long time.

Eventually, things got back to some semblance of normal between the two nations, and by Elimilech’s time, they were getting along pretty well. So, he and his family moved, and probably would have been pretty pleased at the whole situation considering that food was readily available to everyone for a change. I say “probably would have been,” except for the fact that Elimilech up and died. Can you imagine what a blow that was to Naomi? It would be bad enough being left a widow with two young sons to raise, but even worse being left like that in a foreign land: no relatives to give support, no long-time friends to offer consolation, no shoulders to cry on, no social programs to help. It must have been a terrible time.

To Naomi's credit, she managed in spite of it all. She raised those two boys; she somehow found ways to support them, she brought them into manhood as best she could. She was a good mother.

Of course, when Mahlon and Chilion were finally grown, they took wives for themselves, two Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The boys obviously saw no problem with that. To be sure, they knew of their Israelite heritage from their mother’s instruction. They probably would have been perfectly happy to find Jewish wives for themselves, but there were no Jewish girls around. And anyway, these boys had lived more than half their lives in Moab, so they were quite content with the local girls. I wonder what Naomi thought about that in her heart of hearts? It must have distressed her. She knew how much intermarriage was frowned upon in her homeland. During some periods of Israelite history, it was absolutely prohibited by law. Now, here were her two Jewish sons marrying non-Jewish girls. Even in our day, Jewish mothers have a problem with that. But, you know, there is not one word, not one indication, that Naomi ever let her inner feelings be known. As far as Orpah and Ruth were concerned, they were now as much a part of Naomi’s family as if they had been born into it. There were lots of wonderful things about Naomi, and this was just one of them: Naomi accepted them and they knew it.

That is not typical of some people’s vision of a mother-in-law. If there is any accepting to be done, the daughter-in-law or son-in-law must do it. There is that classic story of the woman who was being congratulated by a friend after both her son and daughter were married within a month of each other. “What kind of boy did your daughter marry?” asked the neighbor. “Oh, he’s wonderful,” gushed the mother. “He makes her sleep late, wants her to go to the beauty parlor everyday, won’t let her cook and INSISTS upon taking her out to dinner every night.” The neighbor said, “That’s terrific. What kind of girl did your son marry?” The mother sighed, “Not so good. She’s lazy. She sleeps late every morning, spends all her time at the beauty parlor, won’t cook, and makes them take all their meals out.” There is an old German proverb that says that most
mothers-in-law forget that they too were once daughters-in-law.” Ah, yes. Acceptance. Fortunately, that was not Naomi.

There is more to her story. More tragedy. Both Mahlon and Chilion died. Now Naomi had lost not only her husband but both her sons as well. One wonders how she was able to bear it but she did. When such things happen to people, they begin to think of better times, if only to keep from thinking about how rotten the current times are. For Naomi, those thoughts turned to home, Israel, Bethlehem, memories of the joys of young love with Elimilech ... memories of two little boys playing in the fields outside of town. Those memories were like a siren song in her grief calling “Naomi, Naomi ... come home ... come home.” And so, she decided to do it. After all, there was nothing in Moab to keep her: husband, sons, gone. When word came that the famine in Israel was over, that was all the incentive she needed. All that was left for her in Moab were
her two daughters-in-law. So they ALL decided to go, and off they went.

But before they had gotten too far, Naomi began to think. “This is not fair. These girls should not have to be uprooted from their home just because I want to go back to mine.” And she told them so. “Go back to your own mothers, girls. You will be better off there. You will find new husbands for yourselves and build a better life. You will be fine. I know you will.”

You see, Naomi believed in those two young women. She had gotten to know them just as if they had been her own flesh and blood. She knew that they had a lot to offer the young men who might marry them. She had seen them offer a lot to her own sons, especially at the time of death. She knew these girls would be all right.

The daughters-in-law protested, “No, we want to go with you.” But Naomi persisted: “Listen, you two. You know I love you and you know I would be pleased to have any sons of mine take you for wives. But be practical. I have no more sons, and it is unlikely that I ever will. Why, if I got married tonight, and got pregnant tonight, it would be twenty years before that would do either of you any good. Are you going to tell me that you would be willing to wait around all that time for something that is nothing more than an impossible dream? Of course not. Go home. You
will be better off.”

That had to be painful for Naomi to say. She had come to love Orpah and Ruth, and no one wants to be separated from those they love. But Naomi was practical. She was well aware that, in her culture, the life of a woman was totally dependent upon the man. A widow could not simply decide to pick up the pieces of a broken life, go out, get a job, and start all over again. The only way life could really begin again was in the home of a new husband. Naomi was concerned for them, so she was willing to sacrifice her own happiness for theirs.

That is why what eventually came of her relationship with Orpah and Ruth was possible. Orpah reluctantly went along with what Naomi said. Orpah knew that Naomi had accepted her, believed in her and had concern for her. Naomi had Orpah’s best interest at heart, and Orpah knew that. So she decided to do what Naomi suggested: she stayed in Moab and went back to her family and friends. But for Ruth, it was different.
She too had felt accepted; she too knew that she was believed in; she too knew that Naomi was concerned about her. And no doubt her decision to stay with Naomi was based on that; she was not willing to give that up. And who could blame her? That kind of relationship between two people was all too rare in her day, just as it is in our own.

Of course, once that kind of relationship has been established, some marvelous things can result. In Ruth’s case, history has been treated with one of the most beautiful statements of loyalty that has ever been uttered. What she said to Naomi has endured through more than 3,000 years as an expression of what a genuine relationship is all about. Even to our day, what Ruth said expressed a bond of union so close that it is even repeated in wedding ceremonies to reflect undying devotion. In the beautiful expressions of the King James Bible in which so many of us were nurtured, “But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” (Ruth 1:16). What a magnificent pledge!

What would prompt such a thing? Only that rare combination of loving qualities that supposedly are so rare in an in-law: acceptance, belief, concern “ABCs” of building any kind of true relationship” acceptance, belief, concern.

One more thing should be added. Naomi’s traits should not be thought of as being limited to the making of a good in-law; they would make a good anyone! I think we all want to reach people for Jesus Christ and his Church. You can talk till you are blue in the face, but “Actions speak louder than words.” The good news of Christ’s abiding presence in our lives will most assuredly be communicated by what we do at least as much as by what we say. We have no idea what Naomi might have said to Ruth about her God during the years they lived together in Moab. Something, no doubt, but what we do not know. We do know what effect Naomi’s life had on her daughter-in-law: that marvelous affirmation, “Your God ... MY God.”

Acceptance, belief, concern. Not only the ABCs of being a good mother-in-law, but also of being a faithful witness for Jesus. Do you want to be
a good ambassador for Christ? Let Naomi show you how. Accept the other person as one whom God loves and for whom Christ died. Believe
in the other person. Trust them to respond to the leading of the Spirit. Show concern for them, genuine concern for their well-being, physical, emotional, spiritual. When you can put those elements together you too are liable to hear, “Your God shall be my God.”

Thank you, Naomi, for the lesson. We celebrate Mother’s Day, and that is good - we ought to and for that we thank Anna Jarvis. But on this Mother’s Day, let us include Mothers-in-Law in honor of one wonderful mother-in-law who has taught us so much. Happy Mother’s Day!

Extra credit: Read the entire Book of Ruth. It is only 4 chapters. Ruth is listed in the genealogy of Jesus. (Matthew 1:5)

A TIME OF PRAYER
As we come to you today gracious heavenly Father, we pray for the church throughout the world, that all who profess to honor the risen Lord may be faithful in their witness and courageous in their testimony to the way of Jesus.

For the governments of the world and its leaders that they may dwell in peace, that good will prevail over terrorism and people of faith may freely worship as their hearts direct.

We pray for the sick and those in need. We ask that your hand of comfort and peace will be upon those who have lost loved ones and give
their families the assurance that even in the midst of death, you are there. Be with those who are working on a cure for the virus that is found throughout the world. Give them wisdom and insight.

We pray for our neighbors that we may live together in unity and that the strangers among us may find us to be hospitable friends. We are a family of faith and we pray together the prayer that Jesus taught us: Our Father who art in heaven, hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread and forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors. And lead us not into temptation but deliver us from evil. For thine is the kingdom, and the power and the glory forever. Amen.

THE BLESSING
May Jesus Christ, the Way, the Truth, and the Life, be with you. May the Spirit empower you to serve in Christ’s name. May God, who raised
Christ from the dead, keep you forevermore. Amen.