19 August 2018 The Kind Farmer Martin Baker
Over these weeks we are looking at the Book of Ruth. An ancient story from maybe 2500 years ago. A story which may well have come from a time when there was a high degree of antagonism and cruelty towards foreigners and refugees and people who believed in other Gods.
So before we listen to this story let’s think first of all about the other stories we listen to.
One of the things about some of the stories we listen to is that they are based on news cycles. An event happens, we hear about it and then it can seem to just disappear. And yet we know life is not like that. All stories have a background and all events that happen have consequences. Have futures. People know the history of this story. Ruth a pagan Moabite peasant refugee becomes the grandmother of King David. And is recorded as an ancestor of Jesus.
The stories we hear also tend to focus on specific parts of the world. The Middle East, Europe, the United States, maybe China. Unless something extraordinary and probably terrible happens, we never hear news about Madagascar or Belize - how many of us would hardy have any idea what is going on in even larger countries, Nigeria or Brazil or Mongolia? And yet here is a story about Moab and about ancient Bethlehem. Tiny places.
Many stories we listen to are of conflict, suffering, scandal and disaster. There is a study I have just read that suggests that for some reason we much more attuned to bad news than good news.
It seems that on the whole people believe that the world is getting worse. And though there are real concerns about the environment, on virtually all of the key dimensions of human material well-being—poverty, literacy, health, freedom, and education—the world is an extraordinarily better place than it was a century ago. And, on the whole, continues to get better.
The stories that happen every day of loving kindness and generous people seldom make the headlines. And yet they are the headlines here in the Book of Ruth.
And the reason I’m talking about this today is because the story of Ruth is in so many ways ordinary. There is no burning bush, floods covering the earth, seas dividing voices from above.
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.
Ruth Meets Boaz
2 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, ‘Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favour.’ She said to her, ‘Go, my daughter.’ 3 So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4 Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ 6 The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’[a]
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, ‘Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.’ 10 Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, ‘Why have I found favour in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?’ 11 But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!’ 13 Then she said, ‘May I continue to find favour in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.’
14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, ‘Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.’ So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. 15 When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, ‘Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16 You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.’
17 So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18 She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied. 19 Her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, ‘The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ 20 Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!’ Naomi also said to her, ‘The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.’[b] 21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, ‘He even said to me, “Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.”’ 22 Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, ‘It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.’ 23 So she stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.
Let us pray……
We saw, in chapter 1, Naomi and her husband and sons leave their homeland and travel to Moab. It must have been bad to have left. Over in Moab they worshipped different Gods, and evenyone knew that Moabites were decedents of an incestuous relationship between Lot and his eldest daughter.
And then in that foreign land we read that Naomi’s husband died and, a while later, her two sons die as well.
But years pass and she hears that things might be better back in Bethlehem where she came from. She returns with her daughter in law, Ruth. When she arrives home we get a sense that she is downtrodden and embittered.
So, the scene at the start of our reading, Naomi has lost everything and has returned only with a young widow Moabite daughter in law. Just the two of them.
But remember from chapter 1, the thing we learn about this story and about this Moabite woman Ruth, is that special Hebrew word Hesed we translate as kindness or love, which is the character of both God and the express of God presence in the ordinary affairs of life. Hesed is so powerfully present in these words that 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. 17 Where you die, I will die - there will I be buried.
So they return to Naomi’s home of Bethlehem - probably no bigger than Clevedon 40 or 50 years ago. Everyone would have known everyone else, and many people would be related to each other. People would remember Naomi and her late husband. People would know her situation.
Maybe you have this experience yourself, but sometimes when things go wrong or we face some kind of loss, we can feel quite alone. People have said to me a whole lot of people stopped speaking to them after they lost their business, after the death of my husband some of my friends never spoke to me again. I don’t know what to say to him, so I say nothing.
And we almost have this feeling at the end of chapter one. Ruth and Naomi. They arrive they have nothing, they seem cursed, surrounded by loss, and what is more Ruth was a foreigner. She is repeatedly referred to in our story as the Moabite.
They need to eat . The barley harvest is about to begin and so Ruth heads out to the fields with the hope of gathering some grain.
There were ancient Hebrew laws that allowed impoverished people to follow the grain harvesters and to pick up what little they could that might have been dropped or left.
Total subsistence hand to mouth living but anyone here who has lived in a developing country will know what this is about. People looking through the rubbish you throw out in case there is something of value, or something they can eat.
What future is there here for Ruth. And where is God in all this?
This woman is hungry, she is so desperate that she will work all day, at difficult tedious work, for so little food.
Ruth finds herself in the field of Boaz, who is a distant relative of Naomi. It just “happens”.
The ancient audience would be reflecting on God’s presence in all that was happening.
Now, is this where the guidance of God begins? Right here when she steps onto that field, is this where the guidance from God begins?
Maybe it was when she had the idea to gather grain?
Maybe it was when she walked with Naomi from Moab.
Maybe it was when she decided to stay with Naomi?
Maybe it was when she decided to marry Naomi’s son?
How far back has the hand of God been with Ruth?
That ancient audience would be looking back and reflecting on where God was acting. Sometimes understanding God’s presence is an act of discernment. Looking back over the years, through all we have faced. The people the words, the acts of kindness that have got us through the difficult times.
Ruth arrives at the field of Boaz and asks permission to glean.
Ruth is a hard worker that she doesn’t take breaks like the paid workers do.
When Boaz arrives at the field he asks, who does this woman belong to?
But Boaz has heard about Ruth and her dedication to Naomi, it’s a small town after all. He is impressed that a Moabite would treat an Israelite so well. He knows already the story of Ruth’s kindness, her hesed. He knows that she is under no obligation to Naomi. He knows that she could have moved on to a better life. Boaz knows that the kindness Ruth has shown Naomi is significant. The kindness and love shown by people and God which sits behind this whole story.
Boaz says “May the LORD repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the LORD, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
Boaz sees himself as part of God’s good plan. He believes that his actions are part of God’s acts. God is the one who will provide.
Boaz gives Ruth more freedom than expected. Ruth goes from outsider who has no rights to insider to a person valued and esteemed.
The story moves on and eventually Ruth comes home with after just one day - an ephah of grain!
Naomi is very surprised. Ruth should have come home with enough grain just for her and Naomi to have a single small meal but, Instead Ruth comes home with about 15 kg of grain. Ruth has collected the equivalent of one month’s wages in one day.
Love, kindness, abundance – three qualities that begin to emerge in the story.
As we hold the story of Ruth in our mind let’s remember the story of Jesus.
The whole Christian story starts from a place of obscurity and impossibility. Mary and Joseph, presented too as almost refugees find a place to give birth to Jesus, the same Bethlehem where Naomi and Ruth have returned, an almost unknown town on the edge of the Roman empire. What Reefton or Ruatoria or Kaiwaka might be for Aucklanders. As lovely as they are. Jesus born in a place like that so far from the centre of anything that was important.
And yet, all these expectations overturned.
God does not speak from burning bushes in this book; nor does God divide the sea. Instead, God acts through circumstance, and through the faithfulness of ordinary people. Ruth and now Boaz.
Naomi sees the astonishing amount of barley that Ruth has gleaned and finds out that it is Boaz who has helped Ruth. And it is this encounter with graciousness, kindness, abundance, it is only then that Naomi begins to move from despair to hope. She recognizes in this turn of events the hand of God and she is quick to name God as the source of blessing: Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead
The tide is turning. Emptiness is being filled. Hope is born. And it is an old widow who recognizes the hand of God in these seemingly random circumstances.
This morning, to stand with the ancient audiences and congregations and worshippers and villagers who ponder this story.
Let us spend a moment this week and remember those who have loved us, those who have been kind to us, those who have helped us through some tough times. Maybe name some of those people and give thanks to God for them.
This week, even in the tough time we might be facing, to think about those places of abundance in our lives. Where are we being blessed, even in the midst of all the things we face? To ask God’s help, to resist the bad news stories that can leave us embittered and hurt.
To reflect this week on how we see those who are different from us. Strangers, foreigners, people from Moab. Our wonderful gracious sovereign God is working in their lives as well as our own. We all have a future. Whoever we are.
So let’s finish this morning by hearing the words Jesus spoke to his disciples.
Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful. ‘Do not judge, and you will not be judged; do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven; 38 give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap; for the measure you give will be the measure you get back.’
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