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November 6, 1994

RUTH 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Did it ever occur to you while doing the distasteful job of changing your children's diapers that someone had done the same for you? And, when I was a baby, it was even more distasteful because safety pins stuck you, and the diapers had to be saved, washed, and reused! We come into this world, and we go out of this world, utterly, completely dependent upon the love, sacrifice, and care of others.

How indebted we are to those who have gone before. Actually, when you think about it, we are all hand-me-downs. Increasingly, I realize I look more and more like my father. My physical body and its ailments are the same as his. I walk like him. My handwriting looks like his. A lot of my personality comes from my mother. My values come from both. I remember my grandparents fondly, and can see their influence on my parents and on me. In many ways, I am a hand-me-down.

Paul wrote to young Timothy (2 Timothy 1:5), I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that lived first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, lives in you. Timothy's faith was a hand-me-down. From grandmother, to mother, to Timothy. A teacher asked the children in a Sunday School class, "Why do you love God?" One answered, "I guess it runs in the family."

The Scripture lesson this morning is from the book of Ruth. Ruth was a foreigner, a Moabite. There had been a terrible famine, an economic disaster. Naomi and her husband left their home in Bethlehem and traveled to the wilds of Moab, hearing that things were better there. Moab was a rough, backward place. But, Naomi and her husband were desperate, so they took their two sons and moved to Moab. And, horror of horrors, yet predictable, the two sons begin dating Moabite girls, and soon they married. Two fine, upstanding Hebrew young men married Moabite girls! Then, Naomi's husband and her two sons died, leaving Naomi with two foreign daughters-in-law. Naomi decided to go home to Bethlehem, and expected to leave her daughters-in-law in Moab, but Ruth insisted on accompanying her. You've heard Ruth's famous quote, especially beautiful in the King James Version: Entreat me not to leave thee. Whither thou goest, I will go, and where thou lodgest, I will lodge. Thy people shall be my people, and thy God, my God. Where thou diest, I will die, and there will I be buried.

After Ruth and Naomi got to Bethlehem, Naomi got busy and found Ruth a husband. "He's too old for me," said Ruth. "Old men are good in marriage," said Naomi. "Besides, he's the only man we've got!" (This Naomi had been around the block a few times.) Ruth gave birth to a son. Ruth, a woman alone, vulnerable, at a dead end, with no future, no hope, and a foreigner besides, had a child in Bethlehem. The child was named Obed. She cared for him, changed his diapers (or were they called swaddling clothes)? Obed was to become the father of Jesse, and Jesse was the father of David. Ruth was the grandmother of the great King David, who in turn was an ancestor of Joseph, whose wife, Mary, gave birth to Jesus. Hand-me-downs. Ruth, a foreign, Moabite woman, through the twistings and turnings of providence, became the means of salvation for Israel, and for us.

How indebted we are to those who have gone before. We are all hand-me-downs. A few years ago, on a trip to Boston, Ellie and I decided to look up some Norris history. We drove to Sandwich, Massachusetts, which is 20 miles south of Plymouth, looking for Oliver Norris who is the first person listed in our family records. In the Sandwich Town Hall, we found a listing for Oliver and Margery Norris, but no dates. We still wonder how Oliver got into this country. There is no record of such a person on any ship logs. Eventually we found an article in The American Genealogist magazine which stated that Oliver Norris was born in 1655. The magazine also reported, The original Agawam Plantation record book shows that at a meeting in 1712, Oliver Norris himself having been present at said meeting, was moved to protest most of the votes taken. Just like a Norris!

We are indebted to our family ancestors, and also to ancestors of the faith. We are all deeply indebted to the church. Last week's Newsweek magazine had a fascinating article about Hillary Clinton, and how she is a hand-me-down Methodist. She is heavily influenced by her Methodist upbringing. Lest you think I'm getting political, when the Clintons worship in Washington D. C., they worship in the Foundry United Methodist Church along with Senator Robert Dole. (We are a big church!)

We are all indebted to the church and its saints. How much of you is a hand-me-down from a saint? Who can measure the influence we have on one another? A president of a seminary, who has made major contributions to scholarly and ecclesiastical life, while on a church retreat, was asked to share what had influenced him to a life of service in the church. He replied, "Miss Willa Brown." Who was Miss Willa Brown? A wise teacher? A distinguished preacher? No. He explained,

Willa Brown was the little old lady who always sat alone, near us on the pew on Sunday morning. During the service, when I had settled in with my parents for that long, boring sermon, Miss Brown would secretly smile at me, quietly reach into her purse, and pull out a piece of the best tasting chocolate in the world. She always had it there, just for me. Each Sunday, that was the most tangible, visible, sacramental expression of love I have ever experienced. I'm here today, in the church, because of Miss Willa Brown. (And her chocolates!)

Who can measure the influence we have on others? What are you handing down? Can you think of people in your history who handed down the faith to you? Can you think of people who loved you into the kingdom? What about the saints of our church--those who loved this congregation, sacrificed for our success, faithfully prayed, worshiped, contributed, and served wherever they were needed, so that the light of Christ would shine brightly through the United Methodist Church of Merced.

O, give thanks for the saints. We are who we are, have what we have, believe what we believe, and hope what we hope, because, we are hand-me-downs.

© 1994 Douglas I. Norris