Ancient Stories: Ruth A Study In Faithfulness Pt. 2
This week I am concluding the short sermon series that we have been working for the past few weeks---a series entitled "Ancient Stories." And I am also wrapping up a two-part sermon on the book of Ruth.
So, let's pick up where we left off last week... We learned two things essentially in last week's sermon: First, the main theme of the book of Ruth is chesed or "faithfulness," and Second, that that step toward God (who is absolutely faithful) is a step in the right direction.
This week we'll build on that foundation as we discover the following:
Only the faithfulness of God can transform emptiness into hope.
As we left Ruth in the first part of her story, she was basically homeless living with her mother-in-law in a foreign land with no prospects. Her husband was dead, her father-in-law was dead---there were no men to provide for her safety and security. I know this sounds jarring to our ears, but Ruth lived in a world where widows were essentially non-people without a man in their life.
Naomi sends Ruth out to do the only thing that poor people could do during the harvest, glean the grain that was leftover after the harvesters had passed through the fields. This was a practice that was dictated by Mosaic law for the provision of the poor in the land.
The Scripture reads, "As it turned out..." Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz, a "man of standing" in the community, who also happens to be a cousin of her dead husband. I love this in the text. Coincidence is just God's way of showing off.
When Boaz shows up in the fields to inspect things, he calls out to his workers, "The Lord be with you!" and the call back, "The Lord bless you!" This conversational nugget gives us some insight into the type of man that Boaz is... the kind of landlord that blesses his workers, and whose workers bless him right back.
Naturally, Boaz notices Ruth. Which was bound to happen, right? This is, after all, a love story. He knows her story, and what she has done for Naomi---it's all over town. The fact that a pagan, foreigner---an enemy--would show such chesed to her mother-in-law was a story worth repeating.
He finds out that she didn't just show up to glean, she actually showed the unbelievable humility to come and to ask the foreman if she could glean, even though it was kind of her right to do so anyway. This so impressed the foreman that he tells Boaz about it.
Boaz goes to Ruth and begs her not to go and glean anywhere else, because he personally promises to ensure her safety. As an unattached young woman in a foreign land, she was in a fair amount of physical danger, and he gallantly offers to protect her. She is flabbergasted at his generosity and says so.
Then Boaz says this: “May you be richly rewarded by the Lord God of Israel under whose wings you have come to take refuges...”
This line directly relates to issues of care and protection, but is most often connected to the language of Covenant, and is most often attributed to God's own words to His people. Again, we are being drawn into the theme of chesed and the Covenant that God makes with those he loves.
During the lunch break for the workers, Boaz calls out to Ruth and asks her to eat from his own plate, so to speak. The dude was straight up flirting with her--big time. He even asks her to dip her bread into his balsamic vinegar dressing.
Boaz pulls aside his workers and tells them that if they see Ruth following them during the harvest to let a little extra gleaning fall her way. As a result, she goes home to Naomi with an ephah of grain, which is about 30-50 lbs, or a months worth of wages for the average worker.
When she arrives home with this huge sack of grain, and the story to accompany it, the light bulb goes on in Naomi's head. She realizes that Boaz is smitten with Ruth and coupled with the fact that he is a distant relative---a rich distant relative---she formulates a risky plan.
Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is the "Kinsman-Redeemer" a title that reflects his status as a male relative who could solve all of their problems by purchasing the family property, and marrying Ruth. The two things, in fact, go hand in hand.
It's here in the story that those of us who are Christians sort of perk up and take notice. There's something about this whole "kinsman-redeemer" thing that reminds of something. Hmmmm.... I wonder what that might be?
There were three qualifications for a Redeemer. First they had to have a relationship with the widow as a relative---no matter how distant. Second, they had to have the power and the ability to act as a redeemer. Finally, they had to be willing to do what it took in order to be a redeemer. This last part is important so hold on to it.
Ruth realizes two things at this point in the story:
She is entirely dependent upon grace, and
In order to fully receive grace she is going to have to take a risk and be vulnerable.
Naomi has Ruth get decked out in her most beautiful clothes. She gets her hair did... puts on some perfume... and she dresses up like a bride. Then Naomi tells her exactly what to do. Ruth is to go to the Threshing Floor where the grain is being sifted in the evening. After the threshing is done for the day, everyone would sleep in the same space, like a campsite. Ruth was instructed to wait until everyone was asleep, and then go in where Boaz was sleeping and lay at his feet. So, she does.
When Boaz wakes up, he's freaked out to find a beautiful young woman in a wedding dress lying at his feet. Then she tells him, "Spread the corner of your garment over me, for you are the kinsmen-redeemer." This was a pretty direct statement that would have been impossible to take any other way than how it was offered. To put it gently, Ruth is opening herself up for scandal, rejection, maybe even worse. She is asking him to marry her, if you know what I mean.
Boaz is once again smitten by her vulnerability, and by the fact that out of all of the younger men she could have "chosen," she picked him. This is our first indication that Boaz was probably a middle-aged bachelor. Boaz promises to go to the man who is actually the closest living male relative, and to persuade him to relinquish his rights as the kinsmen-redeemer, so he can marry Ruth. He sends her home with even more grain than she gleaned. When Ruth arrives to tell Naomi the good news she embellishes a bit by saying that Boaz told her "Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty handed."
So in that moment, Naomi, who once said that she went away full from Bethlehem and came home empty, is full once more.
The next day Boaz finds the closest relative at the city gates with the other elders of the village. He tells him about his duty and asks if he would like to purchase the land that was part of the inheritance of Mahon and Chilion, Naomi's sons. The man says that he does, but then when he finds out that he has to marry Ruth as part of the bargain, he backs off. He doesn't want to endanger his children's inheritance with the introduction of another wife, who would bear him more children---in the name of Ruth's dead husband.
When Boaz offers to do it for him, the man agrees and hands Boaz his sandal, which was a way that people in the Ancient Near East settled matters of title on land---presumably because you would "walk" off the property when surveying it. This was done in the presence of 10 elders, and just like that Boaz and Ruth were brought together legally, and then later in the eyes of God.
Ruth bears a son whose name is Obed, who is the father of Jesse, who is the father of David---the greatest king of Israel.
And they all lived happily ever after.
I love this story because there isn't a single person in it who acts in completely admirable ways. Grace, as it turns out, happened not because of their actions, but in spite of them.
So what does this all mean for you and for me? It brings us back to our main point. Only God can transform emptiness into hope. And for those of us who are Christians, we know that the way that God chooses to do that in the world today is through His Son, Jesus Christ. The Apostle Paul writes about this in the book of Romans chapter 5:1-11
5 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, 2 through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. 3 Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; 4 perseverance, character; and character, hope. 5 And hope does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us. 6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. 9 Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him! 10 For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! 11 Not only is this so, but we also boast in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.Because of the actions of Christ, we have the opportunity to experience the kind of grace that can only come from the chesed, the faithfulness of God. And this is good news for those of us who know what it means to feel emptiness. It's saving news for those of us who know that we have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. It's redemption for those of us who know that without God's transforming grace, we will never know what it means to feel real hope.
Let me tell you a story that illuminates this even more...
Longing to leave her poor Brazilian neighborhood, Christina wanted to see the world. Discontent with a home having only a pallet on the floor, a washbasin, and a wood-burning stove, she dreamed of a better life in the city. One morning she slipped away, breaking her mother's heart.
Knowing what life on the streets would be like for her young, attractive daughter, Maria hurriedly packed to go find her. On her way to the bus stop she entered a drugstore to get one last thing. Pictures. She sat in the photograph booth, closed the curtain, and spent all she could on pictures of herself. With her purse full of small black-and-white photos, she boarded the next bus to Rio de Janiero. Maria knew Christina had no way of earning money. She also knew that her daughter was too stubborn to give up. When pride meets hunger, a human will do things that were before unthinkable. Knowing this, Maria began her search. Bars, hotels, nightclubs, any place with the reputation for street walkers or prostitutes. She went to them all. And at each place she left her picture--taped on a bathroom mirror, tacked to a hotel bulletin board, fastened to a corner phone booth. And on the back of each photo she wrote a note.
It wasn't too long before both the money and the pictures ran out, and Maria had to go home. The weary mother wept as the bus began its long journey back to her small village.
It was a few weeks later that young Christina descended the hotel stairs. Her young face was tired. Her brown eyes no longer danced with youth but spoke of pain and fear. Her laughter was broken. Her dream had become a nightmare. A thousand times over she had longed to trade these countless beds for her secure pallet. Yet the little village was, in too many ways, too far away. As she reached the bottom of the stairs, her eyes noticed a familiar face. She looked again, and there on the lobby mirror was a small picture of her mother. Christina's eyes burned and her throat tightened as she walked across the room and removed the small photo. Written on the back was this compelling invitation. "Whatever you have done, whatever you have become, it doesn't matter. Please come home."
So, are you ready to come home? Are you ready to realize the two things that Ruth realized: that you are entirely dependent upon grace, and that you have to risk vulnerability in order to fully receive it?
Aren't you tired of fighting this on your own? Jesus is ready to redeem you. Because of God's love, Christ has a special relationship with us like no other. He has been given the power and the ability to draw all of Creation to his saving presence, and Jesus was and is willing to do whatever it takes to redeem you.
Beloved, only the faithfulness of God can transform emptiness into hope.
It's time to give up and fully embrace the faithfulness of a God who loves you more than you will ever know.