Text: Ruth 1:1-11
Life is a Journey! That journey is described in very different ways. For example, in Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”—-Lear defines the journey of life in this way: “Life is a tale, told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing!” Jesus, on the other hand, told his disciples that He came to bring life and to bring it abundantly to those who follow him.
The journey of life contains many hardships to endure as well as joys to celebrate. It contains achievements that reward us for our journey as well as failures that cause us pain. All of these joys, hardships, failures, and successes are milestones that we leave for those who come after us as we go on the journey of life—-they are Milestones —-markers to guide oncoming generations and help them avoid our failures and achieve our successes. Milestones are the legacy that we leave for those who follow after us to guide their way.
In this journey of life we are either nomads or pilgrims. What is the difference? A nomad is a wanderer. Nomads pay no attention to the milestones and have no goals for where they are going—-and so they wander aimlessly. They say “I don’t know where I am going, but I’ll get there because I am an individual and no one is going to tell me how to live my life. A pilgrim follows milestones left by generations before to avoid problems and live a more abundant life. They take note of the milestones left behind by previous pilgrims.
That brings us to the story of Ruth that we read as our scripture text today. It is the story of a journey. The journey begins with a family of Israelites facing a time of famine, and making the decision to move away from the little town of Bethlehem and journey to Moab. When you think of this famine, think of the Great Depression of the 1930’s and the Dust Bowl. The mother in the family was named Naomi and she traveled with her husband and two sons to the land of Moab to survive the famine. Naomi’s husband died soon after they arrived in Moab, and eventually the two sons married Moabite women—Orpah and Ruth. After about ten years of marriage the two sons died, leaving Ruth with only her two daughters-in-law. Since there was no way Naomi could take care of herself and them in Moab, she decided to move back to Bethlehem where she would have the support of her extended family. She began the journey with Orpah and Ruth, but on further thought, decided that Orpah and Ruth would have the best chance to re-marry if they stayed in Moab, as the Jewish people were quite prejudiced against Moabites. “Go back to your mother’s house” Naomi urged, “May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.” Naomi knew that her relatives in Bethlehem had a negative view of Moabite immigrants—you know—-they don’t pay their taxes, they bleed the welfare system dry, they take jobs away from the Jews, and so on as deeply entrenched prejudice always holds—-even today.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye and returned to her family in Moab; but Ruth surprisingly clung to her mother-in-law and refused to go—-saying: “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……”
To complete the story; God smiled on Ruth’s determination to movie in this new direction and in time Ruth met and married Boaz and they had a son named Obed. Obed would become the father of Jesse who was the father of David, the greatest king Israel . And David was the ancestor of the carpenter Joseph of Nazareth who took Mary as his wife and a son was born named Jesus—The Messiah— distantly related to Ruth.—-ALL OF THE ABOVE WERE MILESTONES USED BY GOD THAT POINTED TO JESUS THE CHRIST.! THE LONG AWAITED MESSIAH!
What we see in Ruth’s story were people on a journey. Naomi and her family on a journey to Moab; Ruth on a journey with her mother-in-law to a place unknown to her called Bethlehem. All were milestones left along the way toward the destination of the coming of God to earth in the form of Jesus of Nazareth.
What are milestones? They are significant places and people through our journey through life who leave behind them a legacy of examples for us to live by. The idea comes from the book of Joshua. In the book of Joshua we read that when the entire Hebrew nation had crossed the Jordan River into the promised land, Joshua said: “Select twelve men from the people, one from each tribe, and command them, “Take twelve stones from here out of the middle of the Jordan, from the place where the priest’s feet stood, carry them over with you, and lay them down in the place where you camp tonight. …..When your children ask in time to come “What do those stones mean to you? “ then you shall tell them that the waters of the Jordan were cut off in front of the ark of the covenant of the Lord when it passed over the Jordan. So these stones shall be to the Israelites a memorial forever.” (Joshua 4) They were called “Milestones”. And they marked a significant place in the history of the Jewish people’s journey from being slaves in Egypt, through the Wilderness; and finally to the Promised Land.
On this All Saints Day we look back at the journeys of our loved ones that have departed the earth this past year. Each of them, if we were to speak to their loved ones who remained behind have left milestones for us to follow. They have left a legacy concerning how life should be lived. And we, their loved ones have a share in that legacy and as we journey through life as pilgrims we also will leave milestones behind for those who follow after us. The legacy of a life well-lived.
I have only seen two of the legacies or milestones left for us in the person of Frances Campbell and Pop Warner, but all of those named today in our bulletin insert whom we remember in this service have left behind their milestones on their journey through life—their legacies , I am certain. They are in the hearts and minds of their children, grandchildren, and fellow pilgrims trying to walk the way of Jesus.
And all of the saints who have gone before us at Christian and Congregational Church have left their milestones behind for us who follow in their footsteps. Those who had a dream and founded this church. Those saints that through the years supported this church and contributed to its impact on the community. A long line of saints have gone before us in this church and we live today because of their contributions of their lives to their church which is now our church.
The writer of the Book of Hebrews in the N.T. wrote about the legacy we are left by saints gone before us and the duty we have to follow in their steps: “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight and the sin that clings so closely, and let us run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith….” (Heb. 12:1-2)
An unknown poet points our duty as we follow the milestones of past saints in the present:
Hold high the torch!
You did not light its glow—
‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.
‘Tis yours to keep it burning bright,
Yours to pass on when you no more need light
For there are other feet that we must guide,
And other forms go marching by our side;
Their eyes are watching every smile and tear
And efforts which we think are not worthwhile
Are sometimes just the very help they need,
Actions to which their souls would give most heed;
So that in turn, they’ll hold it high
And say, “I watched someone else carry it this way.”
If brighter paths should beckon you to choose,
Would your small gain compare with all you’d lose?
Hold high the torch!
You did not light its glow—-
‘Twas given you by other hands, you know.
I think it started down its pathway bright,
The day the Maker said: “Let there be light”
And He once said, who hung on Calvary’s tree—
You are the light of the world”…..Go!….. Shine for me!