Sermon, Sunday June 12, 2016, St Petri
Ruth 1:6-9,16-18, Psalm 146, Hebrews 9:11-14, Luke 24: 13-25
6 When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. 7 With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.
8 Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. 9 May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
I have been blessed enough to have a number of people in my life so far who have taken me under their wing in various areas of life.
When at Uni, I had three mates, and one in particular, who were much more experienced in life than I, who looked out for me and supported me when they could see I was struggling with something – be it study or personal relationships or big life questions.
In the church, I have had several pastors and lay leaders who have taken an interest in my wellbeing.
When learning the game of soccer as an older guy, there was Keith and Kev and Vern, who showed me how to play this strange game so different to what I knew – which was footy.
We all need people looking out for us. We all need someone to take an interest in us at work or at Uni or school, and definitely at home. We can’t mature and grow all by ourselves. Every great contributor in whatever field tells the story about their mum or dad or grandparents or friend or colleague that taught them, shaped them; supported them.
For a long 300 years, this difficult period of the Judges went along for God’s people. The “spin cycle” of idolatry, oppression, repentance and deliverance by God carried through 6 times. In the cycle came the seed for the desire by the people for a different kind of leadership. The notion of Israel being rules by a monarchy with all its trappings gradually rose.
This is where the book of Ruth fits. It tells of how the family line of the kingship was established. The courage and faith of this one woman named Ruth, plays a key role in the beginnings of the kingship.
Ruth, born in Moab, a long way east of the promised land, after losing her husband, returns to Bethlehem in Israel, with her mother-in-law, Naomi. Naomi wants Ruth and the other daughter-in-law, Orpah, who has also lost her husband, to stay Moab. Naomi thinks it would go better for them in their home country of Moab. But Naomi knows she needs to go back to her own country of birth. She might fare better in Israel. But in scenes not unlike the first day at school for a little Reception child, Ruth will not be left behind by her Mother-in-law! We hear those beautiful words of loyalty and love from Ruth, to her much loved mother-in-law, Naomi,
“Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God”. (Ruth 1:16)
So, we have an older widowed woman and her younger widowed daughter-in-law, who is a foreigner, coming to settle in the home town of the older woman, hoping to somehow survive. Both of them are without support; without a husband. They are vulnerable. (Ruth 1)
Things seem very tough, at least to Naomi. She wants to be called “Mara”, not Naomi. “Mara” means “bitter”. Know anyone who might take on that name at the moment?
Why so vulnerable? Living in ancient times was so different to now. There was no safety net outside family, if the family had any safety net. Marriage was not based on romantic love but much more on keeping the family and the community together. A woman who had lost her husband was vulnerable and the family was too. So Naomi and Ruth, come back to Naomi’s home town of Bethlehem Ephratha just near what would one day be the capital city and place of the throne of Israel, Jerusalem.
Just as we all need help when we are young and when we are vulnerable, for whatever reason, Naomi and Ruth need help. They are like a family on one of those rickety boats arriving from the north of Australia on some beach somewhere, or a kid navigating the first week of a new high school, or a person tackling the first day in the new job. You feel all at sea. You are not sure who you can trust or what the unwritten rules are. Do I use the coffee cups in the staff room or do you have to bring your own?
They get help in a man of faith in the Lord. His name is Boaz. Boaz was their kinsman redeemer, or as the Story names this person, a “Guardian Redeemer”.
- A kinsman redeemer has to be a blood relative.
- He had to have some wealth to pay for whatever was needed to insure the family kept intact. He would need to probably buy out neighbours or owners of land to keep the family farm together. He may have to pay out debts for the person he is redeeming or pay a marriage dowry or pay the owner of the person he is redeeming if he or she was a slave.
- The kinsman redeemer also had to have the good will to marry the widowed woman he is choosing to redeem. If he did all this then the vulnerable person would be safe. The family would be able to continue. The family land would stay in the family. At least for another generation, the future would be secured.
It costs to be a kinsman redeemer. It cost Boaz. It cost him more than a few shekels. But that was not the real cost. Boaz took a big gamble. He put his own security, safety and future dreams and comfort on the line to take on Ruth. This was a financial risk, but even more a reputation risk. Ruth is a Moabite. The Moabite tribes oppressed Israel for 18 long years! Boaz is redeeming the enemy!
Is the Spirit now hinting at what this means for you? Can you see the link to OUR Kinsman Redeemer? Boaz is a forerunner to the great Kinsman Redeemer who would come long after him. Jesus is our great kinsman redeemer.
- He is a relative of ours. We, who were once far off from God and “objects of God’s wrath” (Romans 2) are now his very own body; his family. We are his brothers and sisters.
- We are vulnerable – to evil powers, evil people, evil attitudes from outside of ourselves and from within ourselves. We can reject the gracious love of our God and, unlike Ruth to Naomi, can be very disloyal and put ourselves in harm’s way. Instead of saying, “I will go where you go. Your people will be my people and your God, my God”, we find ourselves capable of saying, “I will not go where you go. I will go my own way. I will not consider your people my people. I will blame them for things and might even call them names. I will not place my trust in the God you are asking me to trust. I will trust others and myself.”
- We are foreigners to God’s acceptance and love by nature. All of us fall far short of the glory of God and are deserving of only his judgement, says the Word.
- But, Jesus has the goods to pay evil and judgement out, and has done this – in full. He is not called “redeemer” for nothing. By sacrificing his own life to satisfy all judgement for our unholiness and rebellion against God, he has bought us back and placed us back into a new family that he promises will last all our days and beyond them.
Because we have his Word of promise and we have each other and we belong to him always, we are less vulnerable to the Evil One, the sin within and the great enemy, death itself.
Indeed, we are confident in his ability to complete the new creative work he has already begun in us. Because of the cross and God’s Spirit within us, we no longer have to go along with evil and sin and fear. We can say no to them and yes to him on a daily basis.
He also has the good will to be very, very close to us.
He is the Bridegroom and we are his bride for whom he has paid in full.
We are the slaves he has set free in full.
We are the foreigners and strangers that are tossed about with every wind of teaching the world offers whom he welcomes and makes new, and re-shapes in his truth, over and over again, beginning when he gave us a new nationality, a new passport, a new place – Jerusalem, the holy city, the garden of Eden, the undiscovered country, the holy Universal Christian church.
Ruth took a big risk in all of this. She is a foreigner now living in a strange land. She is from Moab, and she has to simply trust her mother-in-law and this gracious man, Boaz. She trusts.
Boaz took a huge risk in showing us what faith in a gracious God means – being kinsmen and women redeemers for each other and the stranger, sometimes at great cost to our own comfort and security.
That is the call for you today, friend. To trust Jesus of Nazareth as your kinsman redeemer; your big brother who has your back and wants you close, and to be a kinsman or woman redeemer for those the Lord places in your life.
Chapter 9, the faith of a foreign woman
Timeless Truth: God’s gracious redemption extends to all.
Chapter Summary (Have someone in your group read the summary section.)
The story of Israel’s judges closes with a line that could just as well be the opening for the story of Ruth: “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Judges 21:25). God’s chosen ones looked more like a reality show gone wrong than a holy beacon of hope. They had abandoned God’s plan (again) and had become moral misfits and spiritual adulterers. The light had gone out on God’s people. Then a foreigner stepped onto the stage and a candle of hope flickered once again.
The story of Ruth is a literary and redemptive gem that glimmers against a backdrop of blackness. In the opening scene, Naomi’s family caravanned away from the Promised Land where famine had left them hungry for food and for hope. They settled in Moab where idol worship was the prevailing ritual and God seemed far away. Naomi’s two sons married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth. The weddings were too quickly followed by funerals—three of them. Naomi’s husband died first. Soon after, both of her sons died too. And all that was left was three widows, no children, and no prospects. The prospects were indeed grim.
Naomi heard the famine had lifted and decided to return to Bethlehem. She sent her daughters-in-law back to their homes where they might find new husbands. Ruth expressed her strong will and even stronger faith by refusing to leave. Her poetic declaration of loyalty and commitment offers the first sign of hope: “Where you go, I will go; your people will be my people and your God my God” (p. 122). The duo of widows made the journey back to the Land of Promise where the only hope was mere survival.
Once there, Ruth exercised a widow’s right to gather the extra grain from the fields. Her field of choice just happened to be the farmstead of a godly man named Boaz. He also happened to be a family guardian who could carry on the heritage of Naomi’s deceased husband and sons. He noticed Ruth from the start and admired the way she worked to provide for her aging mother-in-law. Boaz offered his help and protection; Ruth noticed him too.
Jewish law required a family guardian to redeem both a widow and her land to preserve the family line. So, as was the custom, Naomi told Ruth to offer herself in marriage to Boaz. He was delighted but also knew of a closer relative who had the right of first refusal. That man chose to forfeit Naomi’s land since it also meant he would have to marry Ruth, which might threaten the inheritance he would pass along to his own children. Neither Boaz nor Ruth was disappointed by his choice since his refusal paved the way for Boaz to fulfill his role as a family guardian or “kinsman redeemer.” Boaz gladly married Ruth and redeemed the family’s land. God cheerfully restored Naomi and planted a family tree: Ruth and Boaz à Obed à Jesse à King David à Jesus.
There’s no denying this story as a great romance. But even more, it brings us to a defining episode in the greatest love story ever told. Boaz’s love for Ruth is a mirror image of the heart of God. Boaz steps in as a willing kinsmen redeemer and foreshadows One who would step in as the Redeemer for all people. So, it turns out the even the “not so chosen” are chosen after all. God’s plan will overwhelm every obstacle, overturn every injustice and overcome completely in the end. Soon, we’ll see that God is writing a happily ever after for this story after all.
Icebreaker Question: Describe a time when you felt uncomfortable, out of place, and far from home.
- Meanings of Biblical names are always significant. Elimelek’s name meant “my God is King.” Naomi’s name meant “my pleasantness,” but later asked to be called Mara, meaning “bitterness.” Ruth’s name meant “friendship.” Boaz’s name meant “swift strength.” Who best lived up to their names and who did not?
- Compare Naomi’s attitude at the beginning and end of this story. How does her view of God and the Upper Story change?
- Look at Ruth and Boaz’s interaction with Naomi. What can you learn about the challenges and benefits of caring for an aging parent? What challenges do you face with your parents?
- The period of the Judges was marked by weak faith and irresponsible living, but this foreign woman gives hope. What specific examples of strong faith and responsible living can you find in the characters of Ruth and Boaz?
- The story of Ruth demonstrates laws that God had given Israel to take care of marginalized people (Deuteronomy 25:5-10, Leviticus 25:25, Leviticus 19:9-10). What do these laws and customs reveal about the heart of God for the poor, the widow and the orphan? How could your group care for the less fortunate and thereby reflect the heart of God?
- The love story of Ruth and Boaz stands in contrast to many of the “love” stories we hear today. What can single men and women learn from their example (note Ruth’s reputation in the community, p. 123, 125).
- The word for redeem is used twenty times in this story, making it a key theme. What does it mean to be redeemed? How does Boaz’s redeeming of Ruth compare to our redemption found in Christ?
- What some people might call coincidence others call divine providence. What are some key examples of God’s divine providence in this story?
In the time remaining ask your group members to share any of their personal reflection insights from their journal entries.