I moved to Virginia 6 years ago, single and able to fit all my stuff comfortably in the back of my Jeep. When I move again this summer, I'll be accompanied by a wife, a son, two dogs and enough stuff to make a Jeep crack its axles.
All around Lexington, students are packing up and preparing to relocate, some for the summer, some for a bit longer. A lot of us have a lot more stuff upon leaving than we had upon arriving. We're full.
What if the opposite was the case? What if I left, if the students left Lexington feeling empty?
I do have days when I feel empty. I wonder if God's ignoring me. I wonder if my friends thought about me. I wonder if I'll be missed. These days are often selfish days, pity days. They are rarely good days.
But I'm not the only one who has days like this.
Ruth's first chapter tells the story of a family experiencing emptiness. The story is set during the time of the Judges. Over and over again during that era, God's people fall into sin and experience suffering. For some reason (and the passage doesn't tell us why), the land was experiencing a famine. Emptiness.
This family leaves Bethlehem and goes to live for a while in the land of Moab. And this is where it helps to know some name meanings. Bethlehem literally means House (Beth-) of Bread (-lehem). In the middle of a famine, this family leaves the House of Bread. That's like leaving Wal-Mart during the Zombie Apocalypse. You don't leave the House of Bread, especially not during a famine.
It makes sense that leaving the House of Bread would lead to emptiness. But this family experienced an emptiness deeper than hunger. Elimelech and Naomi had been blessed with two sons. These two sons both found wives and married, but did so outside of God's covenant (marrying women who didn't share their faith). All three men in the family died, the sons without children, a disaster in that culture.
Naomi, bitter and frustrated, decides to go back to the House of Bread. She'll change her name to Mara (which means "bitter") because she feels that the Lord has made her life very bitter. Little does she know what he has in store for her.
It's at this point that the story takes an unusual turn. Naomi is widowed and has lost her two sons. She is returning to the House of Bread bitter and empty, but not completely. She sends her daughters-in-law away, giving them her blessing to start new families and close this chapter in their lives. But before she does that, she asks that the Lord would show kindness to them. Kindness. The Hebrew word here is "hesed." Hesed is a serious word, especially in the Book of Ruth.
The epic story of the Judges, carried on into Ruth, leaves us wondering if the Lord will continue to show kindness (one of the meanings of 'hesed') to his people. With an Exile in their history and centuries of occupation and diaspora and a Holocaust and the Hebrew Hammer movie, the Jewish people have experienced a world that makes them wonder if all of God's hesed hasn't been used up. Will God still show kindness? Will he remain faithful to his covenant? Will he show loyal love?
God does show kindness, and not just to Naomi's daughters-in-law. God demonstrates hesed toward Naomi, bitter and empty though she is. God gives her a companion, someone to be faithful and loyal, someone to model hesed to her. God gives her Ruth (the P31-W in the making).
And they arrive back in the House of Bread just as the barley harvest is beginning. That's a good time to be in the House of Bread, especially if you're empty.
My hope is that God would continue to demonstrate his hesed to our Small Groups and to the folks in my Small Group. I hope that I get to see it too. His kindness, mercy, faithfulness and loyal love provide the only hope for total fullness in our empty lives and in our empty world. Don't leave empty.