Ruth: A Story of Dedication

Ruth 1:10-18; 2:11-12 and Deuteronomy 10:12-21
Sermon Text: 09.02.2018

          There is a light in the heart of humanity. There is a glimmer, a flicker of the candle that defies logic, ignores failure, persists. Some call it ignorance. Some call it stupidity. I just like to call it hope. For example… Thomas Edison is well known for his creation of one of the early models of the light bulb. It took him 1,000 tries. Babe Ruth is well known as the home run champion of the world for a long time. He had 714 major league home runs. Lesser known is the fact that he was also the all-time strikeout champion. When he retired in 1935 he held the record with 1,330 career strikeouts. For all of his fame as a home run champion, he struck out almost twice as often. Henry Ford went broke five times before he found success. Michael Jordan, possibly the greatest basketball player of all time (I look forward to your letters, Lebron fans) – Michael Jordan is credited with this quote, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve bene trusted to take the game winning shot, and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. That is why I succeed.” Walk Disney was fired by a newspaper because he lacked imagination. He also went bankrupt several times before Disneyland was built. The first time Jerry Seinfeld walked on state a comedy club he froze and was jeered offstage in less than two minutes. 12 publishers rejected J.K. Rowling. 27 publishers rejected Dr. Seuss. Now these stories would all be very disappointing if we didn’t know that eventually all of these people went on to succeed. There were dedicated and did not give up hope. Hope – it is the undying light in each of our hearts. The pulsating ember that stays warm through the cold night. And up from the glowing coals of hope grow the flames that are the greatest moments in human triumph. Against all odds, over every obstacle. Hope is the foundation of dedication. Dedication is the foundation of success.

          Today is the final sermon in the sermon series: Stories of Love. In the last four weeks we have walked through the stories of the Old Testament. We’ve watched as Moses freed the slaves in Egypt, with the help of an awesome God. We saw Esther muster her courage and step up against the greatest bully of her time. We remembered the vengeance of Samson – and saw what life can look like without forgiveness. Last week we watched Daniel stand up for what he believed, even in the face of severe peer pressure. And finally, today we will take a look at the story of Ruth.

 

Now with every story, in order to fully understand it – we need a little bit of background from the time period. Ruth is no exception. In fact, Ruth is bit of a bizarre story that is full of strange customs and outdated practices we don’t understand in the modern world. Ruth actually has a couple things working against her. First – Ruth is a woman, and at this time in history women are not people. At this point in history, women are property. Now the bible doesn’t support that idea, but that is the reality of the world they lived in at that time. When a woman gets married, she was essentially being sold to her husband by her father. If her husband dies, her sons can take care of her or she can go back to her father’s house. BUT if her husband, sons and her father are all dead – a woman at this time has nothing. This is one of the reasons that the bible says it is so important to take care of widows. In this time period widows usually became beggars, because in this unequal society without a man, women did not have a lot of options. So, Ruth is a woman, but on top of that she is a Moabite. Now I’m not going to get into it – but trust me when I say that Moabite’s and Israelites do NOT get along at this point in history. They kinda hate each other. So that’s our background – this weird unfair society where women do not have equal rights.

          So we open our story with a famine in the land, chapter 1, verse 1 [read it]. There’s this guy named Elimelek and he’s got a wife and two boys. And he’s Jewish living in Judah, but there’s no food where they live – so he moves his family to Moab. Naomi’s two boys grow up and get married to Moabite women – and one of those wives was Ruth. Then, all the men die. In the first five verses of the story – all the men die. Now, remember that’s really bad news at this time in history. Naomi’s husband and her two sons – gone. In terms of status in society – the women are officially up a creek. So Naomi turns to her daughter’s-in-law and says, “Alright, time to go home. Go back to your father’s house, where you’ll be okay.” Now, of course, they both protest. Ruth and Orpah, the other wife, they say, “We want to stay with you” but Naomi insists. Eventually Orpah’s listens and goes back to her father’s house. But Ruth stays. She is determined to stay with Naomi. In verse 16 it says, [read v.16-17]. So Naomi sees that she’s pretty determined, and so they journey together back to Judah – to Naomi’s homeland. And Naomi is so grumpy about her life, but I guess you can kinda understand why – She’s bitter, and upset that she has lost everything. She has lost hope. When she gets home, it says, [read v.19-20]. Literally her name Naomi means pleasant, but Mara means bitter. She has faced a storm in her life, bad things happened and it transforms her from pleasant to bitter.

          So Ruth and Naomi arrive back in Judah, but they have nothing. They are beggars in the farming country of Judah. Now, two things we need to know. First, there was a tradition for the famers of the fields to take 10% and give it to the temple, offering it back to God. We call that a tithe, and we still do that today. But there was also a tradition for farmers to purposely leave part of their fields ungathered. They would reap their fields, but leave the edges alone. Then, after the day’s work, the beggars would come out and gather the leftover scraps – and this tradition was called gleaning. This was the only way Ruth and Naomi were going to stay alive. So Ruth goes out and starts gleaning in the fields behind the harvesters. Just then, the man who owned the field just happened to come by. And he just happened to notice Ruth working in the field and ask about her. Hey, who’s the new beggar? When they told him that she was a foreigner who was helping Naomi, he went over and talked to her. He was kind to her. To get an idea of how bad it was with Israel and Moab – take a look at her response. He is kind to her and she can’t figure out why. She asks him in chapter two verse 10, [read it]. Like maybe he didn’t get the memo. Hey, I’m a foreigner – you’re not supposed to be nice to me.  Verse 11 is his response, [read 11-12]. Basically Boaz tells her, “I heard about what you did for Naomi.” I heard about what you did, and it was inspiring – so I’m going to make sure you’re taken care of. 

          So at the end of the day Ruth goes back to Naomi, and Naomi sets up their first date. Now the story gets a little strange at this point – like I said there are some really odd customs that don’t make a lot of sense to us anymore – but long story short, Boaz decides to marry Ruth. One of the strange customs is that in order to marry Ruth, Boaz has to make a deal with Naomi’s next of kin, and in order to seal the deal, it was customary to take off one of your sandals and give it to the other person. I’m not making that up, chapter 4 verse 7 [read it]. The book of Ruth is full of strange customs like that. You see, marriage back then was very different than marriage today. Remember, at this time, women are not people – women are property. So Boaz marrying Ruth is actually Boaz purchasing Ruth, and Naomi. Not only that, but the custom was that if all the men in a house had died, and you a married that woman – your first son would carry the dead man’s name so that household would not disappear. Your first son is not considered to be your son. Also you have to buy all the dead guy’s property too. What I’m trying to show you here is that this marriage is a very generous thing for Boaz to do. This is not just “I kinda like Ruth.” This is I’m gonna pay for their redemption, give that guy my shoe, buy all the property, take care of the mother-in-law Naomi also, and my first son will not carry my name so that the family line won’t die out. I’m going to name my first son after some guy I’ve never met so that his line won’t die out. This is a huge thing for Boaz to do.

          And when we realize just how much Boaz is doing for Ruth, we can’t help but wonder – why? Why would Boaz do so much to help Ruth and Naomi? The bible doesn’t give us specifics, but I look at his response when they first meet. Ruth says, why are you talking to a foreigner? And Boaz says, “I saw what you did for Naomi.” Boaz saw something in Ruth. Ruth was determined. She was dedicated. It’s an embarrassing thing to beg and work to help Naomi. It’s hard work to glean in the fields. It would have been so much easier for Ruth to abandon Naomi and just go to her Father’s house. But that kind of dedication – that’s attractive. Truth is, we are drawn to those with the persistence to make hope a reality. Dedication, determination – they are inspiring. And the thing about inspiration – it’s contagious. When we see it, we want to be a part of it. Boaz wants to be with this woman – drawn by her self-sacrifice into inspiring self-sacrificing actions of his own. Ruth is dedicated to helping Naomi, and that idea spreads into Boaz and inspires him to help as well. The end of the story is that Ruth and Boaz get married, and they give their firstborn son to Naomi to raise – and Naomi has a son to carry on the name. And that son was the grandfather of King David. THE King David.

 

          The story of Ruth is another one of those stories with an awful lot of coincidences. I mean, what if Ruth had decided to go home to her father’s house? What if Boaz had decided not to visit his fields that day? What if the next of kin had decided not to sell the land to Boaz? Everything had to line up just perfectly for the pieces of this story to fall into place. And when we see the coincidences, we realize that dedication alone is not enough to overcome every obstacle. So many pieces could have gone wrong. A few weeks ago we talked about the story of Esther, and how God is never mentioned in the story of Esther directly, not once. But we find God moving in the silence of that story. We see God’s efforts in a stream of coincidences that maybe are not actually coincidences. What this shows us is that Ruth was not the only one who was dedicated. God was dedicated to Naomi. God loved Naomi even when her world was falling apart – she just couldn’t see it. God provided for her in a determined, dedicated way. He works behind the scenes, and it may not be what she was expecting, or what she wanted – but He is always there. God saved Naomi, and her family, through the efforts of Ruth. And the same is true for you. God loves you. God loves you when everything is awesome, and the sun is shining, but God loves you just as much when everything in your world is falling apart.

          Now a lot of scholars when they read the story of Ruth, they point at this story as one giant metaphor for life. There are two characters and in our lives, we are one or the other. Ruth or Naomi. Think about Naomi, whose name means pleasant. Everything started off so good for her, but then when everything gets taken away she becomes bitter. She loses hope. She says, “call me Mara.” But then there is Ruth. Ruth brings her back into the light. Ruth saves Naomi from a lifetime of begging. Without Ruth, Naomi might have died starving in the streets with no family to carry on her name. Naomi lost everything, but think about this, so did Ruth! Ruth lost her husband too – and yet she did collapse in on herself. She did not give up. What was the difference between Naomi and Ruth? Ruth was determined. Ruth had hope. The small, simple belief that this valley was not the end of the story. She was determined, and that hope spread to Naomi. That hope inspired Boaz.

You see, we all have these moments in our life. Sometimes life is good. It’s easy to forget God in those moments – everything’s fine, who needs God? But then when life goes sour, and bad things happen, and we feel bitter. And we say, “don’t call me Naomi, don’t call me pleasant – call me mara, Call me bitter.” Which, I should point out, Ruth refuses to call her that. Call me Mara. Okay Naomi. And that’s very important – we go through seasons, we go through valley’s in life – but that does not change our identity. Sometimes we feel far away from God – but that does not mean that it is true. The season will pass. Even in the valley we are still beloved, never bitter. When life goes sour – we have two options. You can be Naomi or you can be Ruth. You can turn away from God – blaming him and lashing out at him in anger. OR in that moment of pain, you can turn towards God, realizing you need that dedicated love. You can be Naomi or Ruth – but hope is what makes the difference.

 

Let me ask you – Do you believe that God loves you? We say that kind of stuff all the time in the church – but do you truly believe it? Do you believe that God loves you? Maybe we want to be Ruth, we want to have hope and stay close to God, but I think more often Naomi is our reality. We are happy with God when things are good, but we are angry with God when things go bad. When life goes sour and we get angry, we think maybe God does not love us. Without hope we go to a dark place. But here’s the thing about hope. You don’t need a light in the middle of the day. You need the light, when you are surrounded by darkness. You don’t need hope when everything is going awesome in your life. You need hope in those moments when everything is falling apart.

And so the application for today is simple – in the moments of life when the storms come. When, not if, the storms come – you will be faced with a choice. Will you be Naomi or Ruth? Will you be bitter, or hopeful? Do you believe, in the core of your being, that God loves you and that this season, this storm, is not the end of the story? There are two options – turn from God or turn to God. Which will it be for you? Hope makes all the difference. Hope is the foundation of dedication. Dedication is the foundation of success. Dedication is the foundation for endurance. Endurance is for the long haul. I can honestly tell you that the Christian life is the best way to live – but it is not the easiest. Even after you’ve accepted Jesus into your life and you want to live for him – that’s not the end of the story. That’s just the beginning. Dedication is what we need to live our lives to the fullest.

 

          This sermon series covered five major stories in the Old Testament. Moses, Esther, Samson, Daniel and Ruth. I called it stories of Love, and yet none of these stories dealt specifically with love. Moses was all about trust, Esther was all about courage, Samson was forgiveness, Daniel – peer pressure and Ruth was about dedication and hope. So why is this sermon series called stories of love? There is a folly out there. A misconception of just what Love is. People think love is some squishy, happy, warm, fuzzy, cuddly feeling that comes easy. This is not love. It might be part of love. But real love, God’s love, is more. Love is trust and awe, courage, mistakes, forgiveness, dedication and hope. Love is the hardest, most challenging thing you can do with your life. It’s also the best thing you can do with your life. Only the strongest and bravest can stick to it. Each story shows us just a facet of love, one piece of the whole puzzle. So I’ll leave you with this, May your love have trust like Moses, courage like Esther. May your love have mistakes and forgiveness like Samson, authenticity like Daniel and hope like Ruth. May your love be God’s love. Amen.


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