Sunday, May 13, 2007

Lessons from Ruth (Sermon)

As we celebrate Mother's Day, I wondered: how do we live a life to leave a legacy for our children and grandchildren? To answer that question, let us examine the story of Ruth, to see what it has to teach us about this important question.

Ruth 1:1-17

The book begins with a tragic story. Naomi and her husband leave Israel because of a famine, along with their two sons. When Naomi’s husband dies, the two boys marry two Moabite girls. In the course of time, the two sons also die, leaving Naomi alone with her two daughters-in-law, Orpah and Ruth.

Finally, news came that the famine was over. Naomi returned home, but bade her daughters to stay. She knew the persecution that they would face as foreigners. Orpah listened to Naomi’s pleas and returned home, but Ruth refused to leave Naomi.

Life for the poor and widowed in Israel was hard. Ruth went to the fields to glean barley behind the reapers. The law said that whatever dropped to the ground when the grain was gathered was to be left for the poor. Ruth was fortunate to begin her gleaning in the fields of Boaz. Ruth did not know that he was a kinsman, nor that he was a kind and godly man. When Boaz saw Ruth gleaning in his fields, he enquired about her. He asked her to only glean in his fields, so that he could protect her from being accosted. He also instructed the reapers to allow a little extra to fall so that Ruth could provide for Naomi. Ruth gleaned in the fields of Boaz through the barley and wheat season.

As the harvest drew to a close, Naomi noticed that Ruth was smitten with Boaz. So she instructed her daughter-in-law in how to make her intentions known. Though Boaz returned her feelings, he also knew he was not her nearest kinsman. So Boaz went to the city gate and greeted the man who was the nearest kinsman.

Boaz: Did you hear that Naomi has returned?
Kinsman: Yes. I had heard.
Boaz: Well, I wondered if you were going to buy her fields. You are a nearer kinsman than I am, so you have the first right to them.
Kinsman: Yes, of course I want the land. I’ll go buy the land immediately.
Boaz: You know, of course, that with the land comes the hand of the Moabite woman, Ruth. You’ll have to marry her to continue the family’s line.
Kinsman: I can’t do that. Why don’t you go buy the land, Boaz?

And so Boaz redeemed Ruth. Ruth 4:13-17. Ruth became the great grandmother of King David. What lessons do we learn from the story of Ruth? There are three:

1. Earthy Spirituality: Ruth had a faith that directly impacted her everyday life and how she lived. Through Naomi, Ruth had learned enough to say “Your God will be my God.” We often fail to react to the ordinary, everyday events of life in light of the Love of God and what we believe? The two have become separated, so that what we believe and how we live don’t have to be related. It should not be this way. Instead, we need to look at our faith through practical eyes and ask ourselves how what we believe should impact how we live.

2.Obedience. The pattern of obedience we find in Ruth’s example is embodied in the statement, “All that you tell me I will do.” Such unswerving obedience is a model of faith for every Christian. What would our church be like if we could make the same statement to God? How great could we become?

Our society has become obsessed with greatness. But what is greatness? How do we define it? Greatness does not mean that we are great people; instead, greatness is found by being obedient to a God who is great. To be great, we only need to be obedient. If we are obedient, we appear great because the greatness of God shines through us. The spiritual giants we look up to are the same. The are simply obedient to God.

3. Love your neighbor. Jesus was asked, “Who is my neighbor?” Boaz looked at a foreign woman whose people were sworn enemies of Israel, and he said, she is my neighbor. And he didn’t just say this. He showed it through simple acts of kindness

William Wordsworth said, “The best portion of a good man’s life,
His little, nameless, unremembered acts
Of kindness and love.”

Micah 6:8
He has told you, O man, what is good;
And what doest the Lord require of you
But to do justice, to love kindness,
And to walk humbly with your God?

God does not look for big, external displays. What is required? Slow down and look at the list again: To do Justice . . . To love kindness. . . . and to walk humbly with your God. Period.

Ruth teaches us that we need to have a practical theology, that we need to be obedient, and that above all, we need to love our neighbor in tangible ways, through simple acts of kindness. If we do, we also will leave a legacy that will have a lasting impact.

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