Sunday 26 October 2018 Love, Romance and God Martin Baker
Over these last three weeks we have been looking at this wonderfully crafted and ancient little story of Ruth.
We have heard that Naomi and her husband and sons left their home town of Bethlehem to travel to the foreign region of Moab. They became refugees and foreigners in a land where other god’s were worshipped and where the people of Moab were seen, in many ways, as enemies.
We can read in the Book of Nehemiah, for instance, that ‘no Moabite should ever enter the assembly of God, because they did not meet the Israelites with bread and water.
Naomi’s son’s marry Moabite women. Ruth and Orpah.
And this too in a context where we read the prophet Nehemiah saying things like: In those days also I saw Jews who had married women of Moab…., and they could not speak the language of Judah, but spoke the language of various peoples. 25 And I contended with them and cursed them and beat some of them and I made them take an oath in the name of God, saying, ‘You shall not give your daughters to their sons, or take their daughters for your sons or for yourselves.
Some of the tensions that sit behind this story. I guess we all know something about the political mileage that can be made over the threat of strangers, foreigners and refuges, but where do those fears come from, and where is God in all this?
As the story progresses Naomi’s husband dies and then her two sons also die. And finally Naomi decides to return to her home town of Bethlehem, back to her old community. And Ruth her Moabite daughter in law insists on returning with Naomi. She says where you go I will go your God will be my God.
Ruth and Naomi return. Naomi as a grieving widow. Ruth as an outsider. They have nothing and are entirely reliant on the kindness and goodness of others.
And this loving kindness in Hebrew this word hesed which is the kind of word Jesus would have used to talk about God’s love agape. It’s a love that flows through this story, and it’s a love we see culminating 5 centuries later, in Jesus.
So let’s remember again that in so many ways, the most extraordinary thing about this is that it is an ordinary story, preserved over 25 centuries that is also a sacred story. And the simple message for us is that in the midst of our regular lives, there is sacredness, there is the presence of God. There is in each act of kindness a reason to give thanks to God. Every act of selflessness and love provide small proofs and assurance of God’s presence and providence. So, let’s join with those countless from village squares, city gates, synagogues, temples churches, and listen and hear and discern the good news that runs through this story.
3:1 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. 2 Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, observes the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do." 5 She said to her, "All that you tell me I will do." 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did just as her mother-in-law had instructed her. 7 When Boaz had eaten and drunk, and he was in a contented mood, he went to lie down at the end of the heap of grain. Then she came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down. 8 At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! 9 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." 10 He said, "May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. 11 And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman. 12 But now, though it is true that I am a near kinsman, there is another kinsman more closely related than I. 13 Remain this night, and in the morning, if he will act as next-of-kin for you, good; let him do it. 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." 14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before one person could recognize another; for he said, "It must not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor." 15 Then he said, "Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out." So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and put it on her back; then he went into the city. 16 She came to her mother-in-law, who said, "How did things go with you, my daughter?" Then she told her all that the man had done for her, 17 saying, "He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, 'Do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.'" 18 She replied, "Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today."
Let us pray
I do not know if you have had this experience, but a few weeks ago I had dinner with a friend who I had almost lost contact with for several years. He was someone who I knew at high school and into the years that followed. And within just a few minutes of sitting down together we were talking in a way as if those years of lost contact had almost not happened. Have you had that experience? The renewal of friendship?
So, for a moment, think of a friend and think about how that person became a friend…
We take it for granted perhaps, but all friends were once strangers to us.
I might sound a little paranoid here, but have you ever gone into a room, entered the door, and it seems like the conversation in that room drops slightly as people turn to see who has come in, obviously do not know you and seem to be trying to figure out where you fit in? It can be the most difficult moment when you feel you have interrupted something, something you are not part of.
Connecting with others, overcoming distance, no longer a stranger, those deep feelings and experiences run right through our sacred story, deeply part of the Book of Ruth and sit right in the centre of Jesus message. The barriers that separate us from one another and from God. Jesus’s ministry to reconcile, to make new.
A few weeks ago I talked about the word love. And in Greek the language of our New Testament, there are a number of words that are used to describe love.
A love for friends. A love for family. The love associated with physical attraction. And the divine love agape is about desiring the very best for another. The love God has for us and the love Jesus said should be a characteristic of all who would follow him.
There is another fascinating word, the word xenos, we get the word xenophobia from it. The fear of strangers. But the word xenos can mean foreigner, it can mean stranger and it can mean friend and it can mean host.
It’s a dynamic word. Greek philosophers used this word to intentionally capture this dynamic. Think about a friend of yours. When did that person go from being a stranger to a friend? When does a foreigner become one of us? When does a stranger become a host?
In ancient societies, in our reading today into the teachings of Jesus this is a really important concept.
So a central theme that runs through this story today is about bridging this distance.
And if you do not think that’s so importan,t think about these words that Jesus will speak on the day of Judgement:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, (and this is important for understanding the story today) “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
So in reading this story today, this sacred story, it is not just about the past or the present, it captures something which sits at the heart of Jesus message about our eternal futures. About some qualities that are of eternal value and importance.
The story this morning. Ruth prepares for her date with Boaz. It is an intimate, romantic encounter on the threshing floor. We can look at this story and bring with us a whole set of views and values, - is Boaz drunk, is Ruth prostituting herself in some way? But the Hebrew language used to describe both Ruth and Boaz’s characters is language that affirms their integrity, their good character, their values. Boaz is esh gibor hayil and Ruth is an eshat hayil (a man of integrity, a woman of integrity) these are people planning, thinking, acting all within the knowledge and understanding of God’s providence and love and presence.
When Boaz wakes up in surprise to discover a woman lying beside him, it is she who tells him what to do: "I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are next-of-kin (goel)” (3:9). To “spread one’s cloak” over a woman is to marry her. Ruth, in other words, proposes to Boaz! And she calls him to fulfil his duty as the goel. A goel is a close male relative who is obligated in Israelite law to redeem his kin who have fallen onto hard times
Boaz promises that he will do all that Ruth asks. Her faithfulness to her mother-in-law is matched by Boaz’s own faithfulness. And, as remember her hesed, her loyalty, loving kindness and goodness, these foreign widow actions, mirrors God’s own faithful love, God’s hesed. Boaz says, “May you be blessed by the LORD; this last instance of your loyalty (hesed) is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich” Ruth has chosen Boaz and they find new life in each other.
There are simple things in this story, such basic things that we can lose sight of them.
First of all xenos. How someone who was a stranger or a foreigner, can become a friend. Let’s give thanks first for our friends, but even more importantly, the gift given, to become friends. God’s gift of goodness and hospitality that breaks down barriers and distances.
Let us be challenged and think of 1 act this week of hospitality. What is one thing we could do this week to make a stranger, feel in somehow welcomed.
And let us pray this morning for those who feel they have no friends. Let’s pray for the people Jesus was especially concern about. Let’s pray for those like Ruth who comes to a place with nothing, he feel vulnerable and afraid.
Two thousand years ago, after Jesus’ death and resurrection, someone wrote a letter to a small persecuted group of Jews who had committed to follow Jesus. It is called the letter to the Hebrews and you can find it again in the New Testament.
Listen to the connections being made here:
These people, in the midst of their own anxieties and fear, are told in chapter 13.
13 Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. 2 Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing so some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it. 3 Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.
5 Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
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