Tonight is Hallowe’en. I happen to like Hallowe’en. I know that some people don’t like it. They think it’s evil, the devil’s birthday or something like that. From a Christian standpoint, it’s the evening before All Saints Day which is November 1. All Saints Day is a celebration of all the saints, believers in Jesus Christ, who are with him now in heaven. To me, it’s just a fun day for kids to dress up, go trick or treating and collect way more sugar than is good for them. That being said, whether or not you celebrate Hallowe’en is a choice that you make.
So, what choices are we making tonight? Am I handing out loot to the kiddies tonight or not? If yes, then what’s it going to be: chips, pop, candy bars, Hallowe’en kisses? And how will I give them out given that we’re still in Covid and we need to be safe? Last year, we gave out those little bags of chips. We did that by setting up a rope outside the house between two ladders and clothes pinning the chip bags to the rope. Easy. I think we’re doing the same thing this year. But really, these are all pretty small decisions.
The truth is that, though important, Hallowe’en decision are not life changing. So, what about those big decisions? These are the decisions that come along every now and then that can have a much greater impact not only in the short term but sometimes can affect the rest of your life. What career path will you chose and where will you go to school? Who will you marry? Where will you live? When will you consider starting a family? Then later in life… when the children are all grown and move away, when is it time to downsize the house and move into something smaller? When is it time to think about a retirement or nursing home? Or when is it time to stop treatment for a loved one who is dying? Those are all very big questions. The decisions that we make on any of them could potentially affect the rest of our lives, our children’s lives and even our grandchildren’s lives. It’s a daunting proposition. How do we make these big decisions?
Making big decisions starts the same place as everything else in life. For Christians, it starts with Jesus and what he shares with us. Let’s begin with John 13:34 (NIV) which says this: “A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” When making big decisions, let’s start with love.
Note that Jesus is very specific in this verse. He tells us to love others as he loves us. Jesus has set the pattern. In his life he showed us what it means to love others.
I want to two main features of Jesus love. First of all, Jesus’ love is unconditional and, second, it always unselfish in that it always benefits the other person. Let’s look at those two thing.
Jesus loves unconditionally. He doesn’t care where a person lives, what they do for a living, or their level of education. He doesn’t care whether they are young or old, rich or poor, gay or straight, powerful or lowly. It doesn’t make any difference to him. In his life he actually was criticized because he loved not only the good and righteous people, he also love the prostitutes and tax collectors (Mk 2:16). He didn’t always love what they did. Remember that he told the woman caught in adultery to go and sin no more (Jn 8:11). But he was able to separate what they did from who they were. He always loved the person because that person was a child of God even if they didn’t always act like it.
Do we love like that? Do love unconditionally? I really wish we did but the truth is that too often we put conditions on our love. We love people if they are nice to us or if they have done something for us to merit our love. We love them if they are well behaved and don’t embarrass us. We love them if they are part of the right socio-economic group. We will love them because they go to the right church or are part of the right golf and country club. We love them if it suits our fancy and meets our needs and if there is some sort of advantage to us of loving those people and, if there isn’t, then forget it. I know that sounds a bit harsh but please bear with me for a minute.
The kind of love that I just described is not what Jesus means when he tells us to love each other as he loves us. If we only love those who earned our love, we won’t be able to love very many people because everyone, at some point, will disappoint us. And guess what? You will disappoint someone too because we all do. Jesus, however, tells us to love everyone, not only the people who are nice to us but especially those who are not. Remember that in Matthew 5:44 (NIV), he says: “… love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” Not only are we to love the ones whom it is easy to love, we are even called to love the most unlovely of all people, even our enemies. That’s a challenge.
The love that Jesus shares with the world is unconditional. It is also unique in that it is unselfish. It always looks out for the good of others. It is not a selfish love that seeks to benefit me. It is a love that always looks after the needs of other people. It is a love that is exemplified by service to others. Remember that even Jesus, the Son of God, said that he didn’t come to earth to be served but to serve others and to give his life as a ransom for the rest of us (Mk 10:45).
That’s a tough sell for us because the world gives us the impression that every little thing that God put on the face of this earth is for our personal gratification. Everything and everybody in creation should do what is necessary to make me happy and satisfy my needs. Isn’t it true? Isn’t that what TV, radio, and Hollywood tell us that life is all about? We are given the strongest impression that everything is all about me. We have become a very self-centred, egotistical society and even Christians fall into that trap.
But Jesus tells us that this is not what love is all about. He gave all that he had, even his very life, for the good of all people and for the salvation of all creation. His love was not about him. It was about you, and me and everyone else who ever walked the face of the earth. Our love needs to be the same and the sooner that we realize that, the sooner we will be able to express God’s love for the world through our thoughts, words and actions.
The love that we are called to share with others is just like the love that Jesus lived. It is an unconditional and unselfish love that always seeks the good of the other person.
Now that we know what we are talking about when we say ‘love’, how does that help us when it comes to making big decisions? It helps us because it provides a measuring stick that will help us determine if our choices are in accordance with God’s will. If our choices, hard though they may be, are made with an unconditional, unselfish love that always seeks the good of others, then we are probably on the right track. The other side of that is also true. If our decisions are based on reactions to what others do or if they are simply made for the good of ourselves, then we probably need to rethink our decisions because we may must be running down the wrong road.
I want to look at the way one person in the Bible made a very big decision. Her name is Ruth and you may have heard her story. We will begin with Ruth 1:1-5 (NIV)
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.
Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.
This sets the stage. Naomi and Elimelek move from Bethlehem to Moab which is on the other side of the Jordan River. They have two sons, Mahlon and Kilion. Sadly, Elimelek dies leaving Naomi a widow. That’s never a good thing but it was even worse back them because there was no social safety net and widows are often left destitute. But Naomi’s two sons get married to Orpah and Ruth. This is good news because now there are two families to support Naomi. But then the two sons die which is not good news because without men to support them, we now have three destitute women.
The story continues in Ruth 1:6-14. I’m not going to read it but the gist of the story is that Naomi has to make a big decision. She has no men to support her which is not good but she also hears that the famine is over in Bethlehem. Perhaps, if she returns to Bethlehem, one of her relatives will take pity on her and let her live with them so she won’t be destitute. This seems like a good idea and so she tells her two daughters-in-law that she’s leaving.
Orpah decides to return to her family in the hopes that she might find another husband in Moab. Surprisingly, Ruth decides to follow Naomi. Naomi protests saying that she is going to have a hard enough time supporting herself. What is she ever going to do with another young women who is unknown in Bethlehem. While they might take in Noami, the chances of a relative taking in both Naomi and Ruth is slim to none. Ruth, however, will not be deterred. No matter what Naomi says, Ruth insists on going with her. That is when she utters some very timeless words that we read in Ruth 1:16b-17 (NIV):
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.”
Can you hear the love in those words? I hope you can. We repeat those words at a lot of weddings and, even though they weren’t initially uttered in a matrimonial setting, they still fit. They are words that are full of love. They shine with the love that Ruth felt for her mother-in-law Naomi.
Is this unconditional love? You bet it is. Ruth’s husband is dead and there is no longer anything tying her to Naomi. She is facing a very uncertain future by following Naomi to a foreign land. Naomi is old and grey and unable to bear any more sons for her to marry. But she is going to love Naomi anyway. “Where you go, I will go. Where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” There are no ifs, ands or buts anywhere in her words. There isn’t so much as a hint of hesitation. She is going to follow Naomi no matter where she goes and no matter what the future holds. That is unconditional love.
The second question is this; is Ruth’s decision unselfish, based on what was best for her or was it based on the good of others? Again, the answer is abundantly clear. Her decision to follow Naomi is not about her own needs or future. It is an honest attempt to do what is best for her mother-in-law. Naomi, by this point in her life, is an older woman. She is not about to get married again. She is past the age where it would be reasonable for her to have children. In the eyes of the society of her day, she is destitute because there are no men to look after her. The only way that she will even survive will be if someone helps to care for her and provide the things that she will need. That is exactly what Ruth plans to do and what she, in the end, ends up doing.
Ruth’s motives are pure and righteous. But do you think that her decision to follow Naomi was easy? No way? Ruth is leaving so much behind. She is leaving her home, her family, he father and mother, brothers and sisters, her source of livelihood and her security. By today’s standards, Moab isn’t very far from Israel, about 100 km. on the other side of the Dead Sea. But for the people of that day and age, it might just have been on the other side of the world. It would be equivalent to our ancestors jumping on a sailing ship from Great Britain in the 19th century and sailing to the New World never expecting to see their families or their homes again.
DOING THE RIGHT THING
So, why does Ruth decide to do this? Why does she follow Naomi to a foreign land and an uncertain future? She does it for because of her love for Naomi. She also does it for another reason; it is simply the right thing to do. It is God’s calling for her and she is committed to following that calling no matter where it takes her even if it means moving from Moab to Israel.
Big decisions are not so difficult to make when we have a clear understanding that what we have chosen is what God wants us to do. And make no mistake about it; I do believe that God speaks to our hearts. Over the past four weeks, we shared a series of messages on prayer. This is where prayer comes in once again. If we want to know God’s calling in any situation, we need to take it to God in prayer. And in that prayer conversation with God, we need to be willing not only to tell God our concerns but also to listen for his voice as it speaks to us.
The Bible teaches us that, if we choose God’s path, we will have a sense of peace in our lives. Paul wrote these words in Philippians 4:6b-7 (NIV): “… but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” That peace which passes all understanding is the Spirit’s assurance that we are doing what God wants us to do.
But note one thing; just because you have peace about a big decision, does not ensure that you actually want to do what God wants you to do. We all still have a rebellious streak in us that rears its ugly head from time to time. You might want to do something else altogether. Do you think for a moment that Ruth wants to follow Naomi to Israel? I doubt it. If she is like most people, she would prefer to stay home with her friends and family in a place that is safe and secure. Adventures, back in Ruth’s days, often ended in disaster.
God often calls us to do that which we really don’t want to do. I’ve told you many times that Cottam, Ontario was just about the last place I wanted to go in my ministry. We came here kicking and screaming, holding onto the doors as we were being sucked through one by one. What we really wanted to do was stay in Espanola where we had lived for fourteen years and where we knew everyone and everyone knew us. But that was not God’s will. We struggled long and hard with the decision to come here. Moving here put us in an unfamiliar setting. It uprooted our family and the support systems that we had all developed. But somehow God told us that this was the right place to be. One of the biggest decisions that we made in the last 20 years was to accept a call to Cottam United Church. But we knew it was the right thing to do and when we finally made the decision to come here, a sense of God’s peace came over us. And seventeen years later, here we are.
Big decisions involve tough choices and are often the most difficult to make. When they come to us, we need to have a measuring stick that will help us to know if we are making the right decisions that are in accordance with God’s will for us.
Remember that love is central. If we are able to make choices that are based on an unconditional and unselfish love that always seeks the good of others, then chances are that we are on the right track. Remember also that the way that our spirits feel about a decision is a good indicator of whether or not it is of God. Are we at peace with God over a decision? Chances are that it is the right one. Are we anxious or unsure of a decisions? Chances are that we need to rethink it.
All of us must make big decisions. My prayer for each of you is that will seek God’s will in all that you do and make choices that are in accordance to his will so that you too can find the peace that passes all understanding.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
Holy God, we come before your throne of grace with great thanks. You have blessed us in many ways. We pray for a safe Hallowe’en tonight. We thank you for all the saints who have gone before us into your heavenly kingdom. We look to the day when we will be together again.
Help us, O God, to always remember that we have a place and a part in your plan. We want to understand that it takes everyone doing their part to complete the ministries that you have set before us. Enable us to fulfill the responsibilities that you have given to each of us. We choose to put our trust in you and know that your plans are always for the good of all.
We lift up in prayer our political leaders. We pray for wisdom. We would pray for a government that would put a greater emphasis on your justice especially as it relates to the poor of our society.
We pray for those who are sick and have been in hospital this past week. We raise up in prayer especially Carol, Rachel, Mark, Richard and Angela. Send your Healing Spirit to bless them and each of us here, O God of strength and comfort.
We know that when we seek you, we will find you, if I truly want to find you. Help us to always seek you with all of our hearts in all that concerns our lives. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
October 31, 2021 / Pentecost 23 / Proper 26
Ruth 1:1‑18; Psalm 146; Mark 12:28‑34; Hebrews 9:11‑14
CALL TO WORSHIP
ONE: Let us praise the Living God;
ALL: the one who life and love.
ONE: Let us praise the Living God;
ALL: whose justice reigns forever.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
God of Earth and Altar, we come to you on this day seeking your divine presence in our lives. Your power amazes us. Your awesomeness astounds us. Your love inspires us. We are grateful for the assurance that you will complete what you have begun in us. Help us in our worship to learn more of your ways and walk more confidently in the strength of your love as each new day dawns.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Merciful God, we confess our timidness when it comes to sharing your Good News. We often miss chances to spread your message of hope and life. Help us to be bold in our witness for you regardless of circumstances, and never ashamed or reluctant, remembering that you were not ashamed of us, but love us unconditionally and with great patience. Enable us to exemplify that same love and commitment to others that our witness may be strong and sensitive to their needs and situations.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Hear the Good News! There is no power in all creation that can separate us from the love of God in Jesus Christ our Lord. No sin is too great, no shortcoming too disturbing, no hurt too harmful that it cannot be healed by the grace of God’s love. When we truly and humbly confess our sins God forgives and forgets.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Our gifts we give to you who has given us so much. We have no need to pray for more for we already have all that we need. We need only pray for wisdom to use your resources wisely and for the greater good of all humanity. Be, O God, our guide and our strength as we seek to discern your will.
God is our refuge and strength. God is our hope and our salvation. The Good News of Jesus is the message of love. May we be bold in sharing. May our actions be consistent with our words. With the help of the Spirit, let us proclaim the Gospel in all that we do, in every moment of our lives.