Sermon: “Family’s What You Make It” (June 9, 2013)

          When asked to describe Pilgrimage, I often call us a “family-oriented” congregation.  There are many ways to describe us—a small Christian church with traditional worship and progressive theology, UCC, Open and Affirming.  But “family-oriented” just feels right.

          Look at us!  Couples, families with children, families with multiple generations.  I often hear you refer to Pilgrimage as your family.  In our Deacon ministry, we gather groups of families together and assign them a deacon.  Family is a focus at here at Pilgrimage.

          I sometimes wonder if family is important to us because so many of us have had to work so hard at creating our own families.  The norm of family in our society is mom, dad, 2.5 kids, monochromatic.  Families with other configurations have to work hard at defining themselves as family.  If you don’t fit the mon-dad-2.5 kid mold, marriage is different—in 38 states, still—inheritance is different, adoption is different.  Scouting is different.  Not to mention the stares and questions and out and out animosity many non-traditional families receive.  It takes a lot of creativity, love, and courage to be part of a non-traditional family.  So, I wonder sometimes if we focus so much on family here because we’ve had to think so hard about how to do it.

          I’m not knocking traditional family make-up.  Not at all!  I would love to have grown up in a home with two loving parents and a sibling or two.  It just doesn’t work like that for many of us.  Divorce happens.  Death happens.  Infertility happens.  Predisposition to other family configurations happens. 

          At a Southeast Conference meeting several years ago, Rev. Jeremiah Wright began his sermon by asking those who had grown up in single-parent homes to stand.  I stood.  He honored us—and our parents.  It was the first time I’d ever had my family configuration acknowledged and honored at church.  Ever.  I’d always been taught that divorce was a sin and that, therefore, my parents were sinners.  The churches I was part of as a child and teenager made me feel less-than because I came from a “broken” home.  Since that meeting, Rev. Wright has gotten some bad press.  Regardless of anything else he’s said, though, I will always be grateful to him for that act of honoring my family in a sermon.

          Again, I’m not knocking the make-up of “traditional” families.  I’m also not saying that it doesn’t take a lot of creativity, love, and courage to live well as a family in that configuration.  I know that it does!  I am saying, though, that to hold up one configuration of family as the norm demeans those who are part of families with other configurations.  To make someone feel less-than because of his or her family’s make-up?  That just can’t be of God, can it?

          Folks who advocate for the mom-dad-2.5 kid configuration of family often refer to the “biblical norm for family.”  When I hear that, I wonder if those folks have ever read the Bible.  Because, truth be told, there are many images of family in the Bible.  Polygamy was rampant.  And people like Paul and Jesus were single.  Timothy was raised by his mother and grandmother. 

          We did hear about a “traditional” biblical family last week—Isaac and Rebekah and their two sons, Esau and Jacob.  Remember the story?  Jacob stole Esau’s birthright.  His mother helped him do it.  Yeah.  Let’s go with those biblical family values.

          Today’s story begins with a traditional family make-up—Elimelech, Naomi, and their two sons, Mahlon and Chilion.  As you’ll hear, though, that particular family configuration doesn’t last long.  Five verses, in fact.  After that, the story is able to continue only because a young foreign woman had the love and courage to create a different kind of family.

          As Janet/Sylvia reads the first few verses of the book of Ruth, I invite you to remember two things about the culture in which they lived.  First, women without men had nothing; they were the most vulnerable people in society.  Second, it was the norm not to marry outside of one’s tribe or nationality.  Hear now the story of Ruth.

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons.  (Okay.  In the first sentence, the storyteller is sending us a signal that things aren’t going to be what you expect in this story.  Bethlehem literally means “house of bread.”  You’d expect the “house of bread” to have plenty of food, right?  But the story begins with famine in the ‘house of bread.’  That’s the first sign that our expectations will be turned upside down in this story.)  

2The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah.  They went into the country of Moab and remained there.  3But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons.  4These took Moabite wives (foreigners!); the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth.  When they had lived there for about ten years, 5both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.  (The expectation of the first hearers of this story is that the deaths of the men in Naomi’s life also meant the end of her life.  What would she do with no men?  She’d have no livelihood, no protection, no identity.  By rights, the story should end right here…but it doesn’t.  In fact, the storyteller is just getting started.)

6          Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food.  (The ‘house of bread’ has bread again.  Notice that at the start, Ruth and Orpah have packed their bags and are going back to Bethlehem with their mother-in-law.) 

7So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah.  8But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house.”   (Why the change of heart?  Had grief-stricken Naomi just not been thinking to this point?  Was she now genuinely concerned about the safety and well-being of her daughters-in-law? Or had she started thinking about the folks back home and wondering how she was ever going to explain returning with no men AND will two foreign daughters-in-law?  Naomi continues…)

May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me.  9The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’  Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud.  10They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ 

11But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands?  12Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband.  Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, 13would you then wait until they were grown?  Would you then refrain from marrying?”  (Here, Naomi is appealing to Ruth and Orpah from the context of that culture’s norm for family life—women needed men.  According to their culture, the only reason to stay with Naomi was if there was a promise of marriage.  Naomi conveys just how silly an idea that is by talking about her—an older widow—getting pregnant.) 

“No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’  14Then they wept aloud again.  (Foreigners or not, it’s obvious  that Ruth and Orpah had grown very fond of their mother-in-law.  The prospect of being separated from her grieves them.)  Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.

15          So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’  (Orpah is convinced by Naomi’s argument.  As much as she loves Naomi, she has to look after her own security.  She returns home.  Ruth, on the other hand….)

16But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
17 Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’
18When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.

If you respond to these words, then for you they have become the living word of God.       Thanks be to God!


          Shall we sing?  Today’s song will be sung by the group Apologetix.  We’ll look at a video done by a young man for school.  If you feel like joining in with the singing, please do!  (Video)

Naomi Gonna Be with   Ruth
Parody of “Only Wanna Be With You” by   Hootie & the Blowfish  (Ruth 1-4)

Ruth and me, we come from different worlds
  She was a Moabite, I was a Jewish mother’s girl
  In time, she married a son of mine.
  It’s such a shame because my son and husband died
  But there’s nothin’ I could do … I said, Ruth, I’m gotta go back home
  She looked at me, she had something left to say
  I’m gonna follow you and with you I will stay
  I won’t let … you just leave. Because, Mom, I   love you, and you are my family
  And there’s nothin’ you can do. Naomi’s gonna be   with Ruth
  I will call on your God, too … Naomi gonna be with Ruth
  Went home to live in Bethlehem, seen all my friends
  I said, “My family collapsed when all the men died
  “But Ruth has not abandoned me, turned my life to bittersweet
  “She was married to one of my sons, and when   he died, she came with me
  “I better help her find a hubby … Naomi   gonna see her through
  “Somebody local … a lonely man who needs her, too
  “You can call me ‘old school’ … Naomi gonna see her through
  And I think I know just who … Naomi gonna see with Ruth
  Sometimes I wonder what would have been
  If she’d abandoned me when I told her to back then
  Ruth had a baby … and down the line
  Great grandson David, yeah, he was the one who fought the giant
  And there’s the King of the Jews. I know you’ve heard of Jesus, too
  You can call Him, Lord, too … He’s family with me and Ruth
  Yes, He came from out of Ruth … Naomi wanna be with Ruth
  Naomi gonna be with Ruth

©2004 Parodudes Music, Inc.




          The story of Ruth is an intriguing one.  It would make a great mini-series!  There’s pathos, dramatic tension, and a happy ending.  And none of it would have happened if the story had depended only on a traditional image of family.  Because Ruth was able to imagine a different way of being family, the story is able to continue….a story that leads eventually to King David and Jesus.  Yes, a lot of good things emerge from traditional families, absolutely, they do!  But without at least one non-traditional family, we wouldn’t have the Psalms or Jesus.

          And without the non-traditional families in this congregation, we’d have a much smaller and less interesting church.  And without non-traditional families, a lot of children who bring us such joy wouldn’t be here….and other children would have no families at all.

          As we listened to a presentation about Family Promise at the musical fund-raiser last month, someone asked me, “What’s their definition of family?”  The way it’s been described to me is that Family Promise defines “family” in whatever way the children in that family define it.  If it’s grandmother, mother, kids—that’s family.  If it’s one dad and kids—that’s family.  If it’s two moms and kids—that’s family.  With Family Promise, family is what you make it.

          …which reminds me of another song….




















Family’s What You Make It


Jerry grew up in a mountain home in eastern Tennesee.

That home was full of love and joy; it made him the best man he could be.

Jerry went to college by and by, where a pretty little thing caught his eye.

He took her out on a date one night.  They had a real good time.


Refrain:       Family’s what you make it, parents, kids, and love.

                   When we love each other it pleases God above.

                   If somebody questions who your family’s made up of,

                   Just say, “Family’s what you make it, parents, kids, and love.


That pretty little girl that Jerry liked, her name was Carrie Sue.

Before he knew what was happening, he had told her, “I love you.”

She said, “Honey, I love you too.  If you ask me to marry you, I’ll say ‘I do.’”

Jerry smiled ‘til he thought it through, then cried, “What did I do?”  Refrain


Jerry really loved his pretty little gal, of this you can be sure.

But the next step toward their wedding day he wasn’t sure he could endure.

That mountain home back in Tennesee that made him the best man he could be.

There was no daddy in the family of three, just Jerry’s two moms and he.  Refrain


Jerry was afraid if he told Carrie Sue she’d leave him right away.

He put it off as long as he could, trying to find the right words to say.

Finally he took a really deep breath, and even though he was scared to death,

He said, “Carrie Sue, please don’t be upset!  My folks are Jane and Beth.”  Refrain


Carrie said to Jerry, “I love you, Hon.   Your parents raised a mighty fine son.

When everything is said and done, I’ll be the proudest wife, bar none.

Come let’s go just you and me, we’ll visit home so you can meet

The folks who raised me lovingly.  Their names are Jack and Steve.  Refrain


Words and music  © 2009 by Kimberleigh Buchanan


In the name of our God, who creates us, redeems us, sustains us and who hopes for the wholeness of all families.  Amen.


Kimberleigh Buchanan  © 2013

About reallifepastor

I'm a pastor who's working out her faith...just like everyone else.
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