RUTH 1:1-14


DECEMBER 14, 2008


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            What do the movies “While You Were Sleeping,”  “Ever After,” “Pretty Woman,” and “An American President,”  have in common, besides being four of Trudy’s all time favorites?  What they have in common is they are “feel good” movies.  These movies lift our spirits.  They make us feel better about humanity and life, and what we have before us this morning is the “feel good” book of the Bible.

            In our Advent sermon series, “The Bethlehem Chronicles,” we are looking at events and people associated with the city of our Savior’s birth.  Two weeks ago we looked at a sad story, Rachel’s story.  Last week we looked at a foolish story, Micah’s story, and today we look at a “feel good” story, Ruth’s story.  The Book of Ruth is one of the few books of the Bible where everyone comes out a winner.  There are no losers in the Book of Ruth, and even though we are calling this Ruth’s story, the Book of Ruth really tells five stories.

            First of all, the Book of Ruth is the story of the outstretched arm of God.  By that I mean, the namesake of the book, Ruth, is not even Jewish.  She is a Moabite.  In fact, some suggest that the Book of Ruth was written to underscore that fact.  You see, there were Jews who thought so highly of their privileged position as “God’s chosen,” they regarded all other nations and people outside the sphere of God’s care and interest.

            Having a Moabite be the hero would have been as shocking to the average Jew of that time, as was the identity of the blond-headed boy pictured on a Nazi postcard.  In 1935 Nazi government officials selected a blond, rosy-cheeked boy to pose for a photograph with Adolf Hitler as an example of a purely Aryan child.  The picture was made into a postcard, and hundreds of thousands were sold throughout Germany all before the child’s true racial origin was learned.  The Nazis discovered, too late, that the boy was the grandson of Rabbi Wedell of Dusseldorf!  What a shock!

            And what a shock to the Jewish people in Ruth’s day to have a Moabite, a foreigner, be the heroine of this book.  You see, no matter the nationality, no matter the color of one’s skin, no matter one’s economic status, God’s arm extends to draw that person, that nation, that race, that culture into God’s circle of care.  I have been to Israel a couple of times, and I would love to go again, and when I was there I was not only struck by the holy sites, but also I was struck by the great diversity of people who embrace Christ.  At the site of Jesus’ ascension, I watched Russian Orthodox women walk onto the site, kneel with tears in their eyes, kissing the ground.  Over coffee, I talked with our tour guide and bus driver.  Both were Palestinians and one was a Christian.  We don’t often think of Palestinians as Christians, but a number are.  At the site of the feeding of the five thousand, I listened as German Christians sang “Amazing Grace,” in their native tongue.  God’s love extends to everyone.  No one is excluded.

            Second, this is a story of conversion.  Chapter one, verse 15,


            So she said, “See your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.”  But Ruth said, “Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you!  Where you go, I will go; Where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”


            During the days of the old west a certain cowboy would ride into town on Sunday morning and tie up his horse to the hitching post in front of the saloon.  One Sunday, however, he rode into town and tied up his horse in front of the Methodist Church.  The bar keep noticed this strange occurrence and stepped outside the saloon and called out, “Hey, Frank, what gives?  You make a mistake or something?”

            Frank hollered back, “No, not at all.  Last night I went to a revival and changed hitching posts.”

            That’s what Ruth did.  She changed hitching posts.  She put aside her Moabite religion and adopted the faith of her mother-in-law, Naomi.  And why did she do such a thing?  She did it because of Naomi’s profound influence upon her life.  If we take time to read the entire story, we will see that neither of Naomi’s daughters-in-law wanted to be separated from her.  Both wanted to stay with her.  That speaks volumes about Naomi’s character.  Eventually, Naomi convinced one of her daughter-in-laws to go back home.  She could not, however, convince Ruth.  Naomi had come to mean so much to Ruth, she wanted to stay by her side, give up her gods and embrace the Jewish faith.

            A number of years ago I was at a Presbytery meeting in Florida, and Ken Hall, Moderator of our General Assembly, was the preacher for the worship service.  It was during Advent and he preached on the incarnation, and he quoted the Apostle John were John writes, “We declare to you what we have seen,” and he talked about the importance of having tangible models of faith that we can see and touch, and then he gave his wife a great, great complement.  He said that the two greatest decisions he had made in this life was to invite Christ to be an active part of his life, and to ask his wife to marry him.  And then he said the following about his wife.  He said, “She has taught me more about what it means to be a Christian, than anyone or anything else, even reading the Bible.”  He said, “Don’t get me wrong, I read the Bible all the time, but my wife has taught me more about being a Christian than even the Bible.”

            That’s high praise, and the same could be said for Naomi.  She made such an impression on Ruth, that Ruth wanted what she had.  Think about our conversion.  When did we switch hitching posts?  Whom did God use to draw you into the Kingdom? 

            Third, this is a story of commitment.  Look with me at verse 17,


            Where you die, I will die - there I will be buried.


            Note how Ruth commits herself to Naomi even in death.  Ruth’s commitment is total, not just in intensity, but also a commitment for the long haul. 

            Listen to the comments made by George Gallup, Jr.  He was asked to comment about the state of religion in America.  He said his polling data revealed two major trends.  One trend is the search for depth in our society.   He said people are seeking spiritual moorings in there lives.  He said, that is great, but then he offered the other major trend.  He said most American church goers are “assenters” rather than “believers.”  He put it this way:


            They assent to faith.  They assent to belief, but they don’t necessarily believe them.  If we were truly as religious as we sound, we’d be getting rid of poverty in this nation.  There would be no homelessness.  The ethical nature of our society would be vastly different if people truly lived their faith.  Speaking in terms of spiritual commitment, people who have integrated faith into their lives, we find about ten percent of the people falling into that category.


            Let me stop for a moment to make sure we heard that.  George Gallup, Jr. contends that only ten percent of American church-goers are really committed to the purposes of Jesus Christ.  I hope he’s wrong.  Let me finish quoting him,


            The challenge of churches is to deepen commitment.  Not just to get people attending, but to deepen that level.  That’s the goal: people living sacrificially, but happily at the same time.


            In other words, George Gallup says too many of us who like that kamikaze pilot who flew fifty missions.  Now, a kamikaze pilot who flies fifty missions is involved, but not committed.  Ruth, however, was committed.

            Fourth, this is a story of grace.  Turn to Ruth 3:10, and before we read that verse I want to set the scene.  What Ruth needs is a husband.  Now, I’m not being sexist.  I’m not saying that you cannot be complete unless you are married, after all Jesus was never married and he did just fine.  Rather, I’m saying in that time a woman without a husband was in deep weeds.  She had difficulty making ends meet, and so Ruth and Naomi set their sights on a man to marry Ruth, a man named Boaz.  If you were a widow it was customary that someone in the family married you to take care of you, and Ruth and Naomi picked Boaz as their first choice, and when Boaz realizes Ruth’s desire to marry him, it throws him for a loop because he was getting up in years, and he was no longer a young buck running around in tight-fitting jeans.  He was just kind and steady, a hard worker and a pillar of the community.  In fact, listen to his shock,


            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 rich or poor.  And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you what you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.


            In other words, “I can’t believe you have chosen an old goat like me, but I’ll do it.  I’ll marry you.”

            What we have here is pure grace.  Boaz knows he doesn’t deserve someone young, and attractive, and upstanding like Ruth, but he gets her anyway.  I think of the sign in a department store dressing room mirror.  It read, “Objects in the mirror may appear bigger than they actually are.”  Now, that’s grace, and in God’s eyes we appear bigger than we really are.  God thinks more highly of us than we deserve.

            Peter Drucker, the organizational management guru, was asked, “Why are you a Christian?”

            He said, “There’s no better deal.”

            Someone asked for clarification.  “What do you mean?”

            He replied, “Who else has grace?”

            Ruth’s story is a story of grace.

            Then, finally, this is a story of redemption.  In fact, the entire Bible is a story of redemption.  The Lord promised Moses that he would redeem his people from bondage in Egypt.  God said through the prophet Isaiah (43:1), “Do not fear for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name and you are mine.”  Job cries out (19:25), “I know that my Redeemer lives.”  The Bible is a story of redemption and we have another story of redemption here.  Look with me at chapter 4, verse 7,


            Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel.  So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” he took off his sandal.  Then Boaz 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 Elimelech and all that belonged Chilion and Mahlon.  I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are my witnesses.”


            To redeem means “to buy back.  It means” “to get or win back.”   It means “to help to overcome something detrimental.”  That’s what Boaz does for Ruth.  He extricates her from a life of poverty.  He restores her to her proper place in the family.  And that’s what Christ does for us.  He redeems us.  He helps us to overcome something detrimental.  He restores us to our proper place as sons and daughters of the Most High.

            A gem dealer was strolling the aisles at the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show when he noticed a blue-violet stone the size and shape of a potato.  He looked it over, then as calmly as possible, asked the vendor, “You want $15 for this?”  The seller realizing that the rock wasn’t as pretty as the others in the bin lowered the price to $10.

            Later the stone was certified as a 1,950 carat natural star sapphire.  The appraised value?  $2.28 million.

            Here’s the point.  It took a lover of stones to recognize the worth of a star sapphire and it took the Lover of Souls to recognize the true value of ordinary people like you and me.

            Boaz redeemed Ruth by exchanging a sandal.  Christ redeemed us by exchanging his life.  And when we gather around our trees this year, and open our presents, and maybe think about how much we spent on Christmas, let’s also remember how much Christ spent on us, and he has no regrets.  Instead, Christ thinks to himself, “I got Homer and Agnes, Owen and Alva, Ray and Robert, Polly and Anna, and all it cost me was my life.  What a great deal.”  It’s a story of redemption.  It’s what we celebrate each Christmas.