This is a sermon I recently preached for a funeral in my church. The text is Ephesians 1:3-14.
As I was preparing this message for today, I asked around for stories about Ruth that people might like to tell. When we gather together to celebrate the life of someone we love, telling stories often happens naturally. We look for those moments that were particularly tender or funny. Something inside of us reaches out for those “big” memories when we remember someone. However, I should thank you, Emily, for reminding me that it’s not the big memories but the little ones that really stick with us. I asked if she had a story she would like me to include in the message and Emily told me, “You know, it’s actually those little things that I remember most: things like Christmas Eve and apple pie… her apple pie.” Likewise, I was looking through photos with Donna and Carleen the other day, and we came across one where Ruth was obviously mid-sentence and had her hand out in a characteristic gesture. And they said they could just hear her saying, “And let me tell you something…”
It’s the little moments that we remember most. It’s the little moments that define a person. As it turns out, Emily agrees with the famous, ancient Roman biographer Plutarch, who said,
“I am not writing histories but lives, and a man’s most conspicuous achievements do not always reveal best his strength or his weakness. Often a trifling incident, a word or a jest, shows more of his character than the battles were he slays thousands… so I must be allowed to dwell especially on things that express the souls of these men, and through them portray their lives, leaving it to others to describe their mighty deeds and battles.”
So today, I’m going to focus on those little moments in Ruth’s life. As Emily and Plutarch tell us, these moments tell us the most about who Ruth is. Also, I think those little moments illustrate best the truth that Ruth herself wanted us to hear today.
Ruth herself picked out this passage from the New Testament book of Ephesians that we read a few minutes ago. It took a little research, because she told us the page number, but not the exact chapter and verse where she wanted us to start. Donna, Carleen, and I looked together at Ruth’s Bible, looking specifically at the little notes she made for herself in the margins. We don’t know why, but something about these words struck Ruth in a particular way. The three of us got to bear witness to those “little moments” that Ruth had while reading her Bible and something struck her as meaningful. As I was preparing my message this morning, I had a keen sense that I wasn’t just researching another passage of the Bible, but I was having a kind of second-hand conversation with Ruth herself. There was something that she wanted to tell us through this passage from St. Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Let’s see if we can figure out what it is that she wanted us to hear…
If you asked the average person on the street, they would probably tell you that religion is something we do: there are particular beliefs that we accept, certain rituals that we participate in, and certain ethical rules that we follow. But you know what’s really interesting about this passage that Ruth chose for us to read today? It’s a quick summary of important spiritual ideas, but it says almost nothing about beliefs, rituals, or morals. This passage says almost nothing about what we’re supposed to do!
However, it has a lot to say about what God is doing. In this passage, it says that God has “blessed us with every blessing”, “chosen us to be his own”, God is “making us holy” (“holy” means “special”), and has “covered us with his love.” It also says that God “adopts us into his own family” and has “showered down upon us the richness of his grace”. Finally, it says that God “understands us” and “gathers us together from wherever we are”. That’s quite a list! And it’s all about what God is doing.
You and I are surrounded by this incredible mystery of infinite love. In the Christian churches, we call this mystery “God”. And when we say that we “believe in God”, we’re expressing our trust in that mystery. We trust that good is stronger than evil, life is stronger than death, love is stronger than hatred, and life is stronger than death.
Philosophically, we can say that we “believe” any old fact that we observe:
“I believe the sky is blue.”
“I believe the grass is green.”
“I believe that the Packers won the Superbowl this year.”
But when we say, “I believe in you” to someone, we’re saying something about trust. We’re saying something personal. In a way, we’re committing a part of ourselves to what we trust in.
When we trust in this mystery of Love (when we trust in God), that commitment makes a difference in the way we live our lives. Sometimes, it makes a difference in big ways. But most of the time, we can see the difference in those little things. Ruth trusts in the God who loves her, and we can see that trust and that Love flowing through her in that smile, that laugh, that look, that apple pie, that Christmas morning, those little notes in her Bible, and the kiss goodbye.
You, and I, and Ruth are surrounded by this Love that will not let us go. It holds us together in life and in death. It’s bigger than the universe and older than time. Today, I want to invite you to trust in that Love. Let it shine through you in those little things you do, just like it did in Ruth. That’s what it means to be a spiritual person. That’s what it means to be a person of faith. Ruth understands that and I think she wants us to understand that as well.