No Christian Superheroes
by Jack Wald | October 3rd, 2010

Ruth 1:6-14

If I asked you to name a hero of the Bible, who would you name? David who killed Goliath? Samson who gained victory over the Philistines? Abraham who is the father of our faith? Gideon who led Israel to victory over the Midianites? Deborah who led Israel to victory over the Canaanites? Samuel who led Israel to victory and then anointed Israel’s first two kings, Saul and David?

When God sent two men from heaven to meet with Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration, who did he send? Moses and Elijah. Surely these men must be considered heroes of the Bible.

So let’s take a look at our hero Moses.

He started out as a reluctant leader, having to be coaxed by God to go with his brother Aaron to Egypt to deliver Israel from the bondage under Pharaoh. But then he led them across the Red Sea where they were rescued from attack by Pharaoh’s army. He led them to Mt. Sinai where he climbed the mountain to meet with God while the rest of Israel trembled in fear at the smoke and fire and thunder coming from the mountain.

The strength and confidence of Moses is seen in Numbers 10:35–36
whenever the ark set out, Moses said, “Arise, O Lord, and let your enemies be scattered, and let those who hate you flee before you.” 36 And when it rested, he said, “Return, O Lord, to the ten thousand thousands of Israel.”

Moses led Israel from Mt. Sinai to head toward victory in the Promised Land and the people immediately began grumbling, complaining, saying, “Are we there yet? How come we didn’t bring food from home? I want to go back.”

Three days after leaving Mt. Sinai, heading to the Promised Land, our hero Moses crumbled into despair. (Numbers 11:11–15)
Moses said to the Lord, “Why have you dealt ill with your servant? And why have I not found favor in your sight, that you lay the burden of all this people on me? 12 Did I conceive all this people? Did I give them birth, that you should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom, as a nurse carries a nursing child,’ to the land that you swore to give their fathers? 13 Where am I to get meat to give to all this people? For they weep before me and say, ‘Give us meat, that we may eat.’ 14 I am not able to carry all this people alone; the burden is too heavy for me. 15 If you will treat me like this, kill me at once, if I find favor in your sight, that I may not see my wretchedness.”

How about our hero Elijah?

He stood up boldly to King Ahab of Israel and the prophets of Baal. He stood alone with Yahweh against 450 prophets of Baal in a contest to see who was the true god. The prophets of Baal tried and tried but could not get any response from Baal. Then Elijah prayed and Yahweh brought fire to water-soaked wood to consume the sacrifice of a bull. Elijah had the prophets of Baal caught and slaughtered. A great victory for God and his prophet, Elijah.

But then Ahab’s wife, Jezebel spoke. (1 Kings 19:2–5)
Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah, saying, “So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.” 3 Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there.
4 But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under a broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, “It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.”

How could Elijah be so full of strength and faith and then crumble so easily? How could Moses be strong and so weak at the same time?

But this is how we are. Perhaps you can identify with this. I know I can identify with this.

We began preaching from the story of Ruth last week and set the stage for the departure of Naomi from Moab to return to her hometown of Bethlehem. She came to Moab with her husband and two sons to escape a famine in Israel and ten years later she had no husband, no sons and no grandsons. She was alone with her two daughters-in-law and was in despair.

How do people act when they are in despair? When they have no hope?

Some pull in and sink into a depression and are unable to act. Others decide that since life has no meaning they will seek relief in drugs, alcohol, sex and sensuality. Others become angry and lash out at anyone around them. I remember reading about Lebanese youth in the 1980s when Lebanon was at war. They sat around to pass the time playing Russian Roulette. This is a game, if you can call it that, where you put one bullet in a revolver, spin the chamber, put the gun to your head and pull the trigger. You have a one in six chance of killing yourself. The reporter asked these youth why they were doing this and they replied, “We can either die now or in a few months, what difference does it make?”

Naomi was in despair, without hope. How did she react?

Then she arose with her daughters-in-law to return from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the fields of Moab that the Lord had visited his people and given them food. 7 So she set out from the place where she was with her two daughters-in-law, and they went on the way to return to the land of Judah. 8 But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.

It takes energy not to be self-absorbed when you are in despair and Naomi resisted the impulse to think only of herself. She did not sit in a corner moping. She did not strike out at her daughters-in-law and blame them for her sons’ deaths. She thought of their welfare and put their interests before her own. She encouraged each of them to return to their mother’s house and then prayed for them a blessing that had two parts.

In the first part of her blessing she prayed:
May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.

The Hebrew word that is translated as “deal kindly” is hesed. She prayed that the Lord would hesed them as they had hesed her. Hesed is an interesting word and is compared to the Greek word agape. When we talk about love we talk about philos love, the love of one person for another; eros love, the love of the sensual world; and agape love, unconditional love.

Hesed is more complicated than this but it does carry this sense of unconditional love. In Jeremiah 31:3 we read that God said:
I have loved you with an everlasting love;
therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

I have hesed you, therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you.

In Joshua 2:12, Rahab, the mother of Boaz who later marries Ruth, said to the spies sent from Joshua:
Now then, please swear to me by the Lord that, as I have dealt kindly with you, you also will deal kindly with my father’s house, and give me a sure sign

I have hesed you so now you hesed me. Rahab did not have to risk her life to keep them safe but she did. They did not have to keep her safe when Jericho was attacked but they would.

Hesed love carries with it a selflessness. It thinks more of others then of oneself. It speaks of the love that Paul spoke of in Philippians 2:4
Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.

The future for Naomi and her daughters-in-law was very uncertain so Naomi prayed for Ruth and Orpah:
May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.

Secondly she prayed
The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!

The Hebrew word for rest means “a place of settled security”. In her society where there were not other career options for a woman except to be married, she wants them to find another husband, but more than a husband, it is rest that she wants for them.

Rest is a place where shalom, peace, takes place. Rest is a place where you feel safe. Rest is food on the table, clothes on your back and a roof over your house. Rest is a place where you can sit down and breathe and relax. Rest is what we want and what we want for others.

Naomi was heading to her home where she hoped she would find hesed, kindly love, from the people she knew and left ten years ago, but she was not certain of this. Naomi was heading to a future that did not promise to have rest for her, but she prayed this blessing on her two daughters-in-law.

Naomi was in despair but rose from her despair to focus her care and attention on her daughters-in-law and bless them.

There is another interesting part of Naomi’s blessing. When she blessed them, she trusted that Yahweh would take care of them.
May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. 9 The Lord grant that you may find rest,

In this time the view was that each country had its own god. The god of Israel was Yahweh. The god of Philistia was Dagon. The god of Moab was Chemosh. Each god was limited by the borders of the country. Dagon operated in Philistia, Chemosh in Moab and Yahweh in Israel.

So notice that when Naomi prays for her daughters-in-law, she prays that Yahweh, the Lord, will bless them in Moab where she urges them to remain. This reveals great faith in Yahweh who is not limited by national boundaries. Yahweh is god of all. Naomi is in despair but still has faith.

Naomi was a woman of faith, able to rise to the occasion and bless her daughters-in-law when she herself was suffering greatly. She was able to urge them to remain in Moab and find husbands when it would have made her life easier if they were to come with her and help her find food and money to live. Naomi was able to think more of her daughters-in-law than herself.

Orpah and Ruth wept as they received this blessing from Naomi and they told her they would return with her to Naomi’s people.

But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters; why will you go with me? Have I yet sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? 12 Turn back, my daughters; go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. If I should say I have hope, even if I should have a husband this night and should bear sons, 13 would you therefore wait till they were grown? Would you therefore refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

Ruth and Orpah had a close relationship with their mother-in-law and did not want to leave her but Naomi resisted what was in her own best interest. Her argument for them to stay leads her to describe how completely hopeless she is. The only hope for Orpah and Ruth if they stay with her is to have a Levirate marriage. This was a part of the Law of Moses that served as a form of social security for widows, a safety net to provide for their care. If your husband died, his brother was obligated to marry you, to take you on as a second wife. Any children that you had by him would receive your inheritance. So it not only saved a wife from famine but it provided for heirs for her deceased husband.

But what brothers were there to marry Ruth and Orpah? A miracle, or better, a string of miracles would be necessary for brothers to appear to marry Ruth and Orpah. Naomi, at her old age would need to get married. Miracle one. She would need to become pregnant. Miracle two. She would have to get married and pregnant this night. Miracle three. She would have to give birth to twin sons. Miracle four. And even with these four incredible miracles Ruth and Orpah would have to wait at least eighteen years for the sons to grow up before they could marry. This is a long way of saying, “This is completely ridiculous. There is no hope for you with me.”

And now that Naomi has had to explain how ridiculously hopeless her situation is, the reality of her situation comes to her in a fresh way and she descends into self-pity.
No, my daughters, for it is exceedingly bitter to me for your sake that the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

The Hebrew here is not clear but the sense is that Naomi is telling her daughters-in-law that as bitter as they might feel, it is worse for her than it is for them and reality is on her side. They each lost a husband. She lost a husband and two sons. They are young and can find another husband, have more children and have a new life. She is too old to be married again and bear children.

And then she explodes with the judgment that God is working against her.
the hand of the Lord has gone out against me.”

Stay away from me. I am out of favor of God. I am bad luck. Stay away!

What happened to the woman of faith who was blessing her daughters-in-law a second ago?

14 Then they lifted up their voices and wept again. And Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

Tracy will pick up the story next week with the most famous passage from Ruth: (1:16)
But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return 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.

What lesson can we take from this passage this morning?

There are no Christian superheroes sailing triumphantly through life. We are all sinners, fragile, seeking love and approval, stumbling our way along through life, making mistakes, falling and bruising our knees, getting back up again and continuing to follow Jesus. Sometimes we get off the path and have to come back to the path, say we are sorry and mean it, and continue walking. Our mistakes are not normally neat and clean, they are messy and embarrassing.

Moses stumbled. Elijah stumbled. David repeatedly stumbled. Samuel and Abraham stumbled. Even Mary, the mother of Jesus stumbled when she and her other sons came to drag Jesus back home and restore him to his senses.

We are not Christian superheroes; we are stumblers.

The truth is we know we are stumblers. We are all aware of our own faults. We may not admit it to others but we know it ourselves. We look around in church and think others are doing so much better than we are and it makes us embarrassed to let others know the truth about us. Certainly pastors and teachers are better than we are and pastors who write books and speak at conferences are much, much better than we are.

Many years ago when I was working with Richard Lovelace, who was starting a renewal foundation to encourage renewal in the mainline denominations, we went to a conference where a well-known Christian woman was speaking. We met her afterwards in the hotel corridor and talked with her and she was an emotional wreck. She had just delivered a spiritually powerful talk and here she was, crying and upset because of things happening in her life.

We all have clay feet that are chipping and cracking. Even the most prominent of us have chipped and cracked clay feet.

In Susan Howatch’s book Absolute Truth which is the sixth book in a series about a fictional Church of England diocese called Starbridge Cathedral, she writes:
Life is open-ended. Human beings are fallible. They crawl forward, then slip back before crawling on again. Catastrophes lurk to ambush them. Tragedies erupt unexpectedly. ‘The whole creation,’ St. Paul wrote, ‘groaneth and travaileth in pain,’ but nothing worthwhile can be created without blood, sweat and tears, and at least we know that our Creator is alongside us, sharing our suffering and never abandoning that enormous struggle to ‘make everything come right.’

You can feel that you are struggling more than others but the reality is that you are one struggling sinner in the same boat as all the other struggling sinners.

If you have fallen away from the path walking with Jesus, come back this morning. If you have a secret life of sin you are leading, push it away, share with Tracy or me or someone else you trust, ask for help with accountability and come back to walking with Jesus. Turn away from your sin and come back. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. You are not the first to fall away.

If you are struggling to have a devotional life of reading the Bible and praying, you are not alone. Try this week again to begin taking time to be with Jesus. Use the reading guide I mentioned in the RICEmail this past week. Two chapters a day will take you through the Old Testament in two years and the New Testament in one year. We all struggle to have a consistent devotional life.

We are all stumbling along and we all need to be helped by Jesus.

When we come forward for communion this morning I want you to know that you are not the only one needing help. We all desperately need Jesus’ help in our lives. We all need to be forgiven. We all need to be encouraged. We all need to be loved.

When we come forward for communion, look at the people standing, waiting to receive the bread and grape juice which represent the body and blood of Jesus. Look at the people who come and say to yourself, “That person needs Jesus just as much as I need Jesus. None of us are Christian superheroes. We all struggle. We all need help.” As you pray in preparation to come forward for communion, pray for those around you. Pray for your fellow strugglers and pray for yourself.

And as we prepare to come for communion I want to pray over you the blessing Naomi prayed for Orpah and Ruth.

May the Lord hesed you as you hesed others. May you know the everlasting love of God in your life and may you love others even when they are less than loveable. May those close to you love you even when you are less than loveable.

And may you find a place of rest where you know you are safe and loved, a place where you can relax and enjoy all God has given to you. May God bless you with all that you need.

And above all, may God draw you to him in an increasingly intimate relationship where you will find love that has no conditions and peace that no tension can disturb.