What does someone need in a crisis?
Dear congregation, I have chosen the book of Ruth for my sermon today. And there are several reasons for that. First of all, I was touched by Ruth's answer in today's reading. How much love is there in this answer? Then I read the entire book of Ruth and once again rejoiced in the many moments and descriptions of tenderness. The mindfulness and kindness so evident in the conversations. The book of Ruth is an example of how people can relate to each other, or rather, how people can or could relate to each other. And after reading it several times and doing more in-depth research, I was struck by the parallel to the Book of Job. How after Job, our reading order now picks up Ruth and what the connection of meaning is here.
Like Job, Naomi is going through an existential, severe crisis. She has lost her husband and both of her sons. As a result, she is also without rights in this patriarchal society. Her only option is to return to Judah. What does a person need to survive such a truly severe, life-threatening crisis?
Job turned to God despite all his complaints, and despite the most serious accusations and doubts. His friends could not help him. The gap between Job and his friends grows wider instead of smaller with every speech they exchange. Instead of offering solidarity and compassion for their friend Job, they argue God's side - just as they think they understand this side of God. But in the end, however, God will say of this endeavor, "You have not spoken rightly of me, as has my servant Job - offer a burnt offering, so that I will not do evil to you. But let my servant Job make intercession for you; to him I will listen." God shows solidarity with his servant Job.
In the case of Naomi, we experience a different form of solidarity and assistance. Here it is not God personally who helps and comforts, but the help comes from a fellow human being. In Ruth, Naomi finds a companion who sticks to her, she who does not waver, who does not hesitate - but who puts all her strength into accompanying Naomi. This commitment, this promise, yes, this dedication is what I would like to briefly talk about at the end.
But our main focus is on the question: What does a person in crisis need? What is helpful and what is more likely not helpful? And what can we learn - as those needing help, and those providing help -on both sides of a crisis?
The Book of Ruth describes a veritable, literal crisis in this first chapter we heard today. It is actually a great pity that we, as contemporary German-speaking listeners, are unable to hear the literary quality of this masterpiece of Hebrew storytelling. It becomes apparent through the use of distinct proper names that speak for themselves: Elimelech - 'my God is king.' Noomi - 'the love or lovely one.' Noami's sons, Machlon and Kijon - Machlon, 'the sickly one,' Kijon, 'the weak one.' This goes down to Orpah, the second daughter-in-law. Her name means 'the one who turns her back' and extends to Boaz, who later marries Ruth. Boaz - 'in him is power' or 'the potent, capable of procreation.' Only for Ruth there is no clear, etymological interpretation. This, too, is scarcely without meaning.
What does a person need in a crisis? In a crisis we need people who stand by us without conditions. Who build us up and who can give us back or offer us again this lost security. Because a crisis, in addition to suffering and grief or anger and pain, triggers as an accompanying symptom, so to speak, an uncertainty: What will happen next? How will I deal with the suffering and grief or anger and pain? Will I even be able to deal with it? What will it trigger in me? How will I cope with the new situation?
And to make it very clear again for our brothers and sisters who do not speak German as their mother tongue: A crisis is what Noomi is experiencing with the death of her husband and her two sons. With the word "Crisis" we mean a real break, a shock in one's life to date. When we drop the buttered roll on the floor, butter side first, and the dirt sticks to the roll, that is a misfortune. Unfortunate, but not a crisis. And if we get a speeding ticket, that's annoying - but not a crisis. Or if you lose your glasses in the river - as I did in the summer - because the boat capsizes and you haven't attached the string to your glasses - that's stupidity. An expensive stupidity, but still far from a crisis.
A crisis is the loss of a loved one, the loss of an arm or a leg, an end to a long-term relationship, or when you lose your home in an uncontrolled forest fire. These are crises.
And in these crises, this is also very characteristic, we become insecure. The solid ground on which we thought we were standing starts to move; it starts to waver.
If things go very badly, then such a loss can shake one's whole life. A woman or a man decides for another partner, one starts to drink too much alcohol, a job is lost and with it also the apartment, and suddenly one finds oneself on the street. And this happens sometimes very quickly and is then all the more tragic.
What does a troubled, unsettled person need? A wavering person who is losing the ground under his feet?
In my opinion, he first needs security. He needs to know who he can rely on. He needs closeness, compassion, solidarity. He needs to know that he is accepted.
For me, the best - really impressive - accompaniment or form of compassion in Job's case was the first meeting with his friends. They came and sat in silence with Job in the ashes for a week. For they saw that the pain was very great.
That must have given Job strength. The silent solidarity. The shared suffering.
Unfortunately, the friends then began to give Job advice. Questioning Job's suffering for which he was not to blame. Trying to explain the world to Job - exactly how it is (or should be) from their point of view. Neither Job nor God found this very helpful.
Perhaps the following thought will also help us:
Advice is something that comes from outside. A piece of advice does not come from the person himself or has its origin in him, but is brought to him by another person.
And advice giving is just not an encouragement, no.
An advice usually questions something or wants a change of the present situation.
"Your husband ran away from you - yes, then find a new one." "You lost your leg - yes then buy a power wheelchair." That's the brutal, the clumsy kind of advice often spoofed in cabaret.
The less brutal kind is advice on what to do, how to behave, what helped Mrs. Mayer or Mr. Huber, and so on. But is that helpful in a crisis situation? Can you be as active in a crisis as you were before? As an insecure person, do you want to think about what you could do differently? Doesn't any criticism or advice presuppose that the other person has enough strength to be able to endure the inquiry about his or her current behavior?
I believe that Ruth's behavior, as we heard it today, is much more helpful. Not only more helpful, but this answer has everything it takes to lift up a crisis-ridden, weak, insecure person:
"Do not urge me to leave you and turn back! Where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people are my people and your God is my God. Where you die, there I die, there I will be buried. The LORD shall do this to me and that to me - only death shall separate me from you."
This clarity, this unambiguity, this unconditional solidarity - in fact love - that puts everything on the line, makes all the difference. Here is a rock. A rock solid statement to hold on to. To which Naomi can cling. "Your God is my God" that is already an announcement, that is really impressive.
You can only ever speak for yourself, so I say, I think that's really touching.
And I think that's something that I can still take as an example or model today: To love so clearly and unambiguously. To find such good words for my solidarity and affection. To commit myself to something with total dedication.
Ruth does not have a plan B. She has no 'get-out clause.' She throws herself fully into it, goes all out.
That doesn't fit all situations in life, of course it doesn’t. Prudence also has its place, of course. Objection sustained.
But there is something powerful about this skin and hair. Something pleasurable. Something that can also trigger a huge joy.
That puts a smile on my face and gives me courage: In fact - we can still dream.