Faithful Living – Nov. 11, 2018

Faithful Living

A Sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes

Ruth 3-4

November 11, 2018

Main Idea:  We can be faithful to God and to each other.

May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer.  Amen.

Today is Pledge Sunday when we make our financial commitments toward the work of Christ’s church here at First Baptist.  It is the day when we pledge our support and care for each other, for this community, and for the work we do together, that is the work of sharing God’s love with the world.  Making promises to each other and to God entails trust and hope grounded in love.  It also entails stepping out in faith without assurance of outcome, only the assurance that we are together and we are held in God’s providence and care.

This morning we are exploring the Book of Ruth which is about making commitments; about trusting with hope and love, and about doing audacious things to care for one another.  The lectionary text for today is just a snippet so I tell you the rest of the story.  In this way the actions of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz can inform and impact our commitments that we make to each other and to God.

Last week we heard Ruth’s extraordinary pledge of fidelity and love to Naomi and to God.  If you weren’t here; Naomi, her husband, and two sons migrated from Bethlehem to Moab because of a famine.  In Moab, her husband died and her sons married Moabite women.  After 10 years her sons died as well, leaving Naomi with two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth; 3 widows.  Naomi decided to return to Bethlehem and she told Orpah and Ruth to return to their mothers’ home so that they might marry again and be cared for.  Orpah did what Naomi asked but Ruth refused, insisting that she would stay with Naomi until and even beyond death. Naomi did not respond to Ruth’s amazing pledge, instead she complained that God has brought calamity upon her. They returned to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest (this is a hint of what is to come).

Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a man of quality and strength, whose name was Boaz. In ancient Israel, it was the law that when food was harvested, anything that fell on the ground was left for the needy who would come and gather it.  This was called gleaning.   So Ruth said to Naomi, ‘I will go to a nearby field and glean among the ears of grain, in hopes that I may find food and favor for us.’ Naomi, who was still despondent and barely speaking to Ruth, said ‘Go ahead.’ So Ruth went to glean in the field behind the paid farm workers. This was risky and dangerous for her because she was a stranger, a foreigner who could easily be harassed or run off by the farm workers or others there to glean for themselves. As it happened, she went to the field belonging to Boaz who had just arrived from Bethlehem to oversee the workers. When he saw Ruth in the field, he asked his servant-in-charge, ‘Who is that?’ and the servant replied, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi. She asked to glean and gather among the sheaves behind the workers. She has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’

So Boaz went up to Ruth in the field and said to her, ‘Do not go to glean in another field or even leave this one, but keep close to my young women and gather all that you need.  I have ordered the young men not to bother you and if you get thirsty, you can go to our water jug and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ Ruth was astonished and overwhelmed by Boaz’s attention and said to him, ‘Why have I found favor in your sight, why you would even notice me, since I am a foreigner?’ But Boaz said ‘I have heard of all that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband, how you left your father and mother and your native land and came here to a people that you did not know. May you be rewarded for your deeds by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ Then Ruth said, ‘May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to me, even though I am not one of your servants.’

When lunchtime came, Boaz called to her, ‘Come here and sit with us. Have some of this bread, and dip it in our sour wine.’ So she sat beside the workers, and Boaz served her food. She ate until she was full, and she had some left over. When she had gone back to the field, Boaz told his young men, ‘Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and don’t bother her. Pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean.’

So she worked in the field until evening and gathered about a bushel of barley. She brought it back to her mother-in-law along with the leftovers from her lunch. Naomi asked ‘Where did you glean today? How did it go?Looking at the grain and the food, she said ‘Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’ Ruth said, ‘The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ Naomi perked right up and said, ‘Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead! That man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.’ Another ancient law in Israel required a man to marry his dead brother’s widow in order to continue his brother’s family and preserve his brother’s wealth. This was called levirate marriage. Boaz was not obligated to care for Naomi and Ruth in this way, but Naomi was hopeful that he might. Ruth said, ‘He told me to stay close by his servants, until they have finished all of the harvest.” Naomi said, ‘This is wonderful! It is good for you stay with his young women, to be safe, and perhaps you will get to know Boaz better too.’ So Ruth stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning for about 7 weeks until the end of the barley and wheat harvests.

After that first day, Boaz remained friendly with Ruth but distant. So Naomi came up with a matchmaking plan. She said to Ruth, ‘My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing-floor where Boaz is working; but do not make yourself known to him until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, wait until he is comfortable; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; he will tell you what to do.’ If this sounds risqué and dangerous, it was. Naomi was telling Ruth to offer her body to Boaz in exchange for his protection.  Ruth said to her, ‘Okay. All that you tell me I will do.’

So Ruth went down to the threshing-floor and did just as her mother-in-law had instructed her. When Boaz had eaten and drunk his fill, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down in a quiet corner and fell asleep. Then Ruth came quietly, uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! He said, ‘Who are you?’ And she answered, ‘I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin.’

Ruth did not wait to hear what Boaz would have her do, instead she offered herself to him and challenged him to marry her, using the same word for his cloak as he had used for God’s wing, implying that his action would manifest God’s care. This time it is Boaz who was astonished and overwhelmed. He said, ‘May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your kindness is better than the first; for you could have sought marriage from a younger man.  Now, do not be afraid; I will do for you all that you ask, for everyone knows that you are a worthy woman. But, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsman more closely related than I. Remain here tonight, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do so. If he is not willing to act as next-of-kin for you, then, as the Lord lives, I will act as next-of-kin for you. Lie down until the morning.’

So Ruth stayed with Boaz through the night, but got up before dawn so that no one would know she had been there. Boaz sent her home with two bushels of barley, and then he went into the city.  When Ruth arrived home Naomi asked, ‘How did things go with you, my daughter?’ and Ruth told her all that Boaz had done for her.  Naomi said, ‘Just you wait, my daughter, for that man will not rest until he settles the matter today.’

This time it was Boaz who had a plan.  No sooner had he gone up to the city gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin, of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz called to him, ‘Come over here, friend and sit down.’ So he went over and sat down. Then Boaz gathered ten men of the elders of the city, and asked them to join them. He then said to the next-of-kin, ‘Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you about it, and ask if you’d like to buy it in the presence of the elders sitting here. If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if not, tell me, for you have first rights and I come after you.’ So the man said, ‘Sure, I will redeem it. Why not?’  This man had not helped Naomi but he was more than willing to take her land.

Then Boaz said, ‘Okay great, The day you buy the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of Elimelech’s son, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance. You will marry her and provide an heir to Elimelech’s family. ’ At this, the next-of-kin said, ‘I don’t want to do that. Why would I want her? I have my own family. You can take it and her.

Boaz smiled and said to the elders and all the people, ‘Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to her husband and sons. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, to be my wife.’ Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders, cheered, saying. “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, and Tamar who together built up the house of Israel.” May this foreign woman be like the illustrious women of Israel’s past.

So Boaz married Ruth and in time she gave birth to a son. And the women of their neighborhood said to Naomi, ‘Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.’ Then Naomi took the child and cared for him. The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’ They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

The book of Ruth is a story about pledging commitments to each other, to recognize the needs and value of others and to boldly offer help and support. It is about the extraordinary things we can do for each other in the everyday living of our lives; reaching out, taking notice, trusting in faith, acting with love. As we prepare to make our pledges of commitment to the ministries of First Baptist, may we be inspired and challenged by the bold and loving actions of Naomi, Ruth and Boaz.

Let us pray,

Faithful and loving God, we thank you for your providence and care.  Inspire us to share of our resources. Empower us to acts of commitment. May all that we do be a blessing to you and to us and to the world. Amen.