Ruth’s new home was one of those modern blended families. She wasn’t the only Moabite in the household—her husband’s brother, Mahlon, had married a Moabitess as well. They all lived together in one home, along with Ruth’s newly widowed mother-in-law Naomi. Being one of those modern blended families, they suffered from discrimination on the part of both the Moabites and the Judeans who lived in the area. It seemed like they didn’t fit in anywhere. But Ruth was glad that at least they lived in Moab, among her own people, and not in Judea where she would be a foreigner. For ten years they lived together as one big family, until tragedy struck. In a freak accident at work, Mahlon and Chilion were both killed, leaving the three widows to grieve together under a leaky roof.
Soon poverty added to their sorrow as they discovered that neither the Judeans in Moab nor the Moabites wanted to assist three grieving widows in such a modern, blended, mixed household. As social pariahs in Moab they faced starvation. Then one day Naomi announced that she was returning to Judea, where she could rejoin her family of origin and receive their care. Though it broke her heart, Ruth’s mother-in-law urged her and her sister-in-law Orpah to remain in Moab and remarry Moabite men. That way they could know happiness again, and also find some financial security. Orpah thought this was the best solution, kissed Naomi, and returned home. But Ruth’s heart broke to think of separating from this woman whom she had loved for ten years.
Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or turn back from following you; for where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. Thus may the Lord do to me, and worse, if anything but death parts you and me (Ruth 1:16-17 NASB).”
So Ruth and Naomi said goodbye to Orpah, packed their bags, and moved to the village of Bethlehem in Judea. They knew life would be a struggle, but they were determined to struggle together. For Ruth, loyalty was worth more than a life of ease. She gave up the possibility of a future among her own kind in order to take care of a widow that she knew would be a burden in her old age. She was willing to do this because of her sense of duty, and also because of her love for Naomi. Even though they were not of the same people, they were one family. “Your people shall be my people,” Ruth said, “and your God, my God.”
When I followed God’s call to ministry at Bethel, I essentially said the same thing to the church I serve. Though I’m not from Halifax County, I will become as one of them. Their accent will become my accent, and their quirks my quirks. Likewise, they agreed accept this boy from the Richmond area as their own, overlooking the fact that I don’t sound like I’m from Southside Virginia and that I have more of a city attitude than they have.
This week at Bethel we ordain two new deacons, whose job it is to assist the pastor in ministering to the needs of the people. Though they are not physically family, they are to become as Ruth was to Naomi, helpers and kindred in spirit. Rather than looking at the people under their care as burdens, they will follow the advice of the apostle Paul, who said in Romans 12:10 (HCSB), “Show family affection to one another with brotherly love. Outdo one another in showing honor.”
This task is not for pastors and deacons alone. It is the duty and privilege of every Christian to adopt as their own the people around them who need their care. We may not be of the same family, language, custom, or creed, but that doesn’t matter in God’s eyes. Believers need to care for the helpless regardless of their differences, and not only serve them but love them as family.
I love the character Groot from the 2014 Marvel Studios movie Guardians of the Galaxy. With his guttural baritone voice by Vin Deisel, this intelligent tree-like creature battled to defend his friends and stuck by them no matter what. Throughout the movie, he has only one line which he repeats over and over: “I am Groot.” Others in the movie get annoyed with him from time to time because it seems like this is all he can say. (Spoiler alert) Near the end of the film, when the group is in danger of certain death, Groot sacrifices himself to save his friends. When Rocket Raccoon realizes that Groot’s actions will cause his death, he asks why he would do this. The hulking friend simply answers, “We are Groot!”
“We are Groot!” This is no simplistic sentence composed of monosyllabic words. Instead, it is a mystical expression of the unity possessed by people who are so at-one that they can no longer tell where one ends and the other begins. It is a statement of the symbiosis that the group has achieved. When one suffers, all suffers. When one celebrates, all know joy. Self-sacrifice for the sake of the group is not out of the question, because after all, “We are Groot!” This was the cry of Ruth. This is the song that the deacons sing. This is the mystical expression of every believer who sees the unity of the body of Christ and gives everything to secure one another’s well-being. It doesn’t matter that we’re aliens from all parts of the galaxy, that we’re Moabites and Judeans, or that we display any other differences that might separate us. We are Groot—we are one!
I pray that like Ruth you’ll recognize the oneness of those who are different from you, that you’ll commit yourself to loving and protecting and serving those who need you, no matter the cost. I pray that you’ll become a guardian of the galaxy—or at least your corner of the world. I pray that you’ll look at your family, your church, your neighbor, and even your enemy and say, “We are one!”