Ruth 1:6-22; Matthew 11:28-30
Have you ever noticed that superheroes aren’t any better than we are about fixing their own problems? I find this extremely ironic since most of us think having superpowers would help make our lives easier. But in fact, having superpowers doesn't take away their suffering any more than the rest of us. In fact many superheroes decide to use their powers for good precisely because of some tragic event in their life. Robin Rosenburg who wrote an article for the Smithsonian magazine, notes that there are three ways superheroes become superheroes: there's chance-- like Spider-Man being bitten by a radioactive spider; there's Destiny-- like the X-men who are born with their powers and have to decide how to use them; and there's trauma-- like Batman whose parents are killed when he's a child so he spends his life becoming a superhero to bring justice to the world. (Robin Rosenburg, Smithsonian Magazine, February 2013)
But even as Rosenburg splits superheroes' origin stories into three categories, there is a thread that runs through many of them-- and that is the thread of trauma. The X-men, after all, are excluded and made to feel less than because of their powers-- they are feared and the government tries to control them, and a lot of the time it is the trauma of this situation that fuels their superhero status. Spiderman, although retaining his powers by chance, doesn't use them for good until his Uncle is murdered and that convinces him to use his powers to help others instead of just making a buck for himself.
So instead of Superheroes' powers keeping them from experiencing pain, it is often, in fact, that their pain is what causes them become heroes.
There’s something about tapping into our pain; of being able to name our difficulties rather than running from them or denying them that allows each one of us to become superheroes in our own right.
Let's take a look at Naomi and Ruth. We learn from the very beginning of their story how much pain they are in. It's really unfortunate that we don't hear about the good times that they have before Naomi's husband dies; Ruth’s husband dies; and Orpah's husband dies. Within a short amount of time these three women lose everything. It would be devastating for any of us here today, but because of the cultural norms that women couldn't own land, couldn't do business with men, couldn't make their own living, Ruth, Naomi,and Orpah literally lose everything. It is at this point that Naomi tells her daughters-in-law that she is going back home where she hopes to find some relatives who will care for her, and that her daughters-in-law should go back to their families of origin so that they have a chance for another life-- a chance to marry again, a chance to start again because they are still so young.
Orpah eventually hears the wisdom in this offer. She can imagine another future for herself, so she graciously and with much sorrow says goodbye to these two women with whom she has lived since she was young. But for some reason Ruth cannot go back. She has found in her mother-in-law someone she trusts, someone she enjoys being around, someone she loves. She will not let her go back, an old woman who may or may not find generous relatives who will take her in. She recognizes that the only chance Naomi may have, is if Ruth goes with her. Rather than turning away from her pain, rather than moving on to a new life to forget her mother-in-law and all of the pain that comes from being with her and being reminded of her losses all the time, Ruth chooses to embrace this new life. She finds the courage to go to a land she has never seen; to live with a people she does not know; because she has seen the way Naomi lives her life, and she wants to know the God that Naomi knows. She wants to make sure that Naomi will have a new life too.
Paul Tillich, a well known theologian wrote that when you're in those moments of suffering that seem too great to bear, you are reintroduced to who you are. You are reminded that you are not, perhaps, who you thought you were, and instead a deeper self emerges. Those moments of suffering carve a hole in who we thought we were, and what is revealed is an even deeper self.
Ruth finds the courage to find that deeper self. To realize that she has the courage to face a new beginning she knows nothing about, and that she can do that in order to provide a chance at a new life for her mother-in-law and herself.
And while this may seem like such a local, small incident between two women whose names we may or may not remember-- this story takes on a whole new depth of meaning when you read the Gospel of Luke and find that Ruth is included in Jesus' lineage. She is a Moabite, an outsider of the Jewish faith, whose courage took her to the Israelite land; whose heart chose to worship a God she did not grow up with-- this God of love and promise-- and whose steps of faith, even in the middle of sorrow, lead her not only to a new life for herself and her mother-in-law, but a new life for all of us because it is through her lineage that we get to know Jesus.
Those moments when we find the courage to face our sorrow and find our deeper self are moments when God is able to show us who we really are and change the world.
Sitting with Paul Tix, whom you saw this morning, and hearing his story of the past few years which he admits have been some of the most difficult years of his life, it is clear that God has been with him every step of the way. Here is a man, who though it would seem he is carrying one of the heaviest burdens of his life, has found rest and love and a depth of relationship with God and others that he didn't know could happen in this life. Jesus says to us, "Come to me all you who are carrying heavy burdens and I will give you rest.” Paul has indeed found that kind of rest.
Ruth and Naomi set out trusting in God, and God brings new life in ways they couldn't have dreamed of just months before.
And God can do that for you too.
Whether your hero is Ruth, or Paul Tix, or Spider-Man, what makes a true hero super isn't the powers that they have, but the ways that they are willing to take a look at their world and the suffering in it, and use their powers for good.
And Jesus says that when we do that, when we take up his yolk and follow his teachings, trusting that God will be with us every step of the way and relying on the Holy Spirit, we won't avoid suffering. We will have burdens. But he will make those burdens seem light in comparison with all we will gain. We will find a new depth of living and a grace that we didn't realize could exist —a love that will never let us go.