Faith Church

Epic Stories – The Story of Ruth | Sermon from 10/2/2016

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Monologue of Ruth  

The relationship and bonds of a family are important to God.  God created us to be part of a family.  God called Abraham and didn’t bless him alone but said that he would bless his family and make them great.  2 of the 10 Commandments deal with family.  First, God calls us to honor our Father and Mother and then God calls us to honor the vows of marriage with the command to not commit adultery.  So God creates us to be in families and teaches us how to keep families strong and then blesses families in many ways and today we going to look at the epic story of Ruth that teaches us what it means to be a family and how to keep our families strong.

To understand the power of Ruth’s story there are two important things we need to know.  The first is that Ruth was a woman from the land of Moab, and the Moabites and the people of Israel were usually at odds with each other.  The people of Moab were descendants of Lot, who was a nephew of Abraham, but they were pagans who worshipped other gods and the women of Moab were known and sometimes encouraged to seduce the men of Israel and pull them away from God to worship false gods and idols.   The depth of hatred for the people of Moab can be seen in the exclusion of the Moabites from any kind of worship life in Israel.

Deuteronomy 23:3-4 – No Ammonite or Moabite or any of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord, even down to the tenth generation.  For they did not come to meet you with bread and water on your way when you come out of Egypt and they hired Balaam to pronounce a curse on you.  So Ruth, as a Moabite, would have had no place among the people of Israel.  She would have been seen as an outcast.

The second thing we need to understand is the Levirate Law of Marriage.  This was a law that outlined what happened to a woman if her husband died before they had any children and we find this law in Deuteronomy 25:5-6.  This passage shows us again how vital families were to God and to the people of Israel.  It was important for a man to have a son so that his name and his family line could continue and it was important for the women to have a son because a woman’s place in the world was defined by her father, her husband or her son.  Now I know that today that sounds very sexist and patriarchal and it is, but this is how the Jewish culture was established and this particular law was set in place not just to ensure that the family line of the man continue but to protect and care for the women as well.  In a society where men often died young, women needed to be cared for by someone.

So the story of Ruth begins when Elimelech and Naomi, a Jewish couple from Bethlehem, moved to Moab due to a famine.  Elimelech died in Moab which then left Naomi with her two sons, Mahlon and Kilion.  They both married women from Moab, a woman name Orpah (not Oprah) and a woman named Ruth.  Now both Mahlon and Kilion died before they had any children which left Naomi alone in a foreign land with her two daughters-in-law.

With no more men in the family for Orpah and Ruth to marry so that they could have children and be cared for, Naomi told both Orpah and Ruth to return to their families so that their biological families could provide for them.  Orpah returned to her family, but Ruth would not leave her mother-in-law.  Ruth stayed with Naomi and utter words that have been used at weddings ever since.  Where you go I will go and where you stay I will stay.  Your people will be my people and your God my God.  Where you die I will die and there I will be buried.  May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if anything but death separates you and me.  Ruth 1:16b-18

In an epic statement of loyalty and commitment, Ruth sets aside her own well being and all her family ties to remain with Naomi and with this decision and act we begin to see what family is all about.  Fundamentally, family is not about blood or DNA or even legal contracts, it’s about sacrificial love.  Ruth’s connection to Naomi’s was through the marriage to her son and when he died there was nothing forcing Ruth to stay with Naomi.  Ruth was free to return to her family so that they could care for her or so that she could find another husband, but her love and concern for Naomi was so strong that she sacrificed her own wants, needs and future to stay with her.

What makes epic families aren’t great vacations or lots of things to have and do together but acts of sacrificial love that express our care and concern for others.  This love is expressed in many different ways.  I have done many funerals for older parents where the children told me stories about how their mother went without new clothes her entire life so her children could have what they wanted.  Or how fathers worked two jobs to not just put food on the table but to provide the extra things their children wanted for school or sports.  For me, sacrificial love was my Mom sitting in the car for hours and hours while waiting for me at music lessons, choir rehearsals, band practices and youth group meetings.  I grew up in the 1970’s during the gas shortages and gas was expensive and so my Mom wouldn’t drop me off, go home and then pick me up again, she would sit in the car and wait.  She sacrificed so that I could take part in all those things that made my childhood so rich and full.

Sacrificial love in the context of biological families is something we often hear about, but sometimes the epic stories of families are those where we see and hear about how sacrificial love creates a family.  This is the kind of love that welcomes foster children into a forever home.  Or the kind of love that makes sure that children who have lost a mother or father have all that they need in life.  There is a touching video of a young boy starting school and for the first time his father wasn’t going to be there because he died in an accident related to his work as a police officer.  The police force made sure this boy was surrounded by family on that first day of school and they showed up as a family to escort him to school.

Sacrificial love in a family is important but what we see in the story of Ruth is a sacrificial love that makes a family.  Ruth sacrifices her future to go with her mother-in-law to a foreign land to help provide for her.  We can all share that kind of love with others.  We can sacrifice and reach out in love to seniors to remind them that they are not alone.  We can make sure we include single people in our family gatherings so they can experience the joy of birthday parties and holiday meals.  When sacrificial love moves us to care for those in need around us in ways that truly cost us something we are building relationships that go beyond blood and biology and forming a true family.

Ruth’s sacrificial love created a family with Naomi and together they traveled to Naomi’s home in Bethlehem.  These two women didn’t have anything to call their own and they were completely dependent upon others to care for them.  In order to get food to eat, Naomi sent Ruth into the fields of a man named Boaz where she could gather grain.  One of the ways that God made sure the poor were provided for was that He commanded people not to harvest all of the produce from a field but to leave some along the edges for those in need.  Leviticus 23:22.

So Ruth went to gather grain in the field of Boaz who was a distant relative of Naomi’s husband and Boaz took notice of the new woman in the fields and heard about all that Ruth had done to care for Namoi.  The story of Ruth’s sacrificial love touched Boaz’s heart and so he immediately reached out to care for her.  Ruth 2:8-12.  In time, Boaz fell in love with Ruth and wanted to marry her but due to the Levirate law of marriage, Naomi and Ruth would have belonged to the closest relative of her husband, which was another man in the village.  Boaz went to this man and asked if he was going to redeem them by taking them into his home and having a child with them and when the man said no it opened the door for Boaz to marry Ruth – which he did and another family is created.  Ruth 4:13-17.

This single passage is so full of images of family that we can learn from.  There is the sacrificial love Ruth had for Naomi which was better than the love of 7 sons and kept the family going.  There is the love and loyalty of Boaz who was a kinsman redeemer, the one who made Ruth and Naomi part of his own family.  We see the levirate law at work with Ruth and Boaz having a son but that son didn’t just belong to the two of them, it belonged to Naomi as well.  The bonds of commitment, loyalty and love needed for families is seen throughout the story, but it actually ends with a stunning picture of the family of God.

The final words of verse 18 cannot be overlooked or simply read as part of the genealogy we find throughout the Bible.  Ruth was the great-grandmother of King David.  So in the line of King David was an outcast woman from Moab, who was an enemy of Israel.  But now let’s take that one step farther.  Jesus came from the line of David, so in the line of Jesus we find an outcast woman from a foreign, even enemy, land which tells us that all outcasts are welcome in the family of God.  That Jesus came to love and redeem all people isn’t just something we see in Jesus as he reaches out to lepers and prostitutes and tax collectors, it was foreshadowed by this epic story of Ruth.  Ruth’s story tells us that generations before Jesus was born, the plan of God was for his son to save and redeem all people.  You and I are welcome into the family of God not by biology or DNA but by the love of Jesus.  Once again it is sacrificial love that makes a family.

In fact, that the story of Ruth was to be a foreshadowing of God making a new family out of all people is made clear by the mention of Ruth found in Matthew 1:5-6a.  Salmon, the father of Boaz, whose mother was Rahab, Boaz the father of Obed, whose mother was Ruth, Obed the father of Jesse and Jesse the father of King David..  I have to be honest and say that I never noticed that the 2 women included in the genealogy of Jesus were the mother of Boaz and the wife of Boaz – Rahab and Ruth.

Boaz’s mother was Rahab who was a prostitute who helped save the spies of Israel who went in to check out the Promised Land, which means that both women connected to King David and then to Jesus were outcasts.  Both women would have been clearly outside of the family of God and yet through one man, Boaz, they are brought into the family of God and through him are included in the line of David and the genealogy of Jesus.  From the very beginning God’s plan was always to bring Jews and Gentiles together into one family.  The outcast and the chosen were both going to be part of God’s family.

The story of Ruth is the story of family and it reminds us that all families are formed and nurtured and strengthened by sacrificial love.  Today the only way to strengthen our families is through sacrificial love.  The only way to strengthen the bonds with children and parents and heal divisions between siblings and cousins is through sacrificial love.  How can we live out this love story and strengthen our families?

The story of Ruth is also a story of God’s family and it reminds us that we are all part of God’s family because of the sacrificial love of Jesus.  We are all brothers and sisters and we need to see people from all walks of life and all nations and backgrounds as part of our family.  In a world that is increasingly divided along racial lines, political lines, ethnic lines, economic lines and religious lines, the story of Ruth reminds us that God’s desire is that we become one family and the way to form this family is by first accepting the sacrificial love of Jesus and then allowing Christ to live within us so we can truly love one another.

Today, as we share in communion we are sharing in it with brothers and sisters around the world.  The first Sunday of October has been designated as World Communion Sunday where followers of Jesus around the world share in this meal together.  What makes us one family in faith is the sacrificial love of Jesus, seen in the bread and cup and what keeps us together as one family is living a life of sacrificial love and allowing that love to be seen in all we do.

 

Next Steps The Story of Ruth

1. Read the story of Ruth and identify all the ways that family is seen, created and nurtured through the story.

 

2. How has sacrificial love helped create, nurture and sustain your family in the past?  Thank those family members who have loved you.

 

3.  Family is not just biology and DNA.  What larger families are you part of?  What makes these families strong?

 

4.  All families need ongoing sacrificial love to keep them healthy.  Name three things you can do this week to show this kind of love for your family.

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5.  God calls all of us help create new families and expand His family.   Invite others to be part of your family gatherings and invites others to be part of God’s family by inviting them to be part of worship, small groups, mission and fellowship here at Faith Church. 6.  Share pictures of your family on our facebook page using the hashtag #epicfamily.  Include pictures of your biological family as well as other “families” that make up your life.  

 

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