"A Happy Ending"
October 31, 1993 Message
Long Green Valley Church of the Brethren
Glen Arm, Maryland USA
based upon Ruth 4:1-17
(last in a series)
Most everyone likes a happy ending, wouldn't you say? We go to the movies and return feeling much better about things if the story ends on a positive note. Of course, we can put up with a show that doesn't have a nice ending, as long as there is a sense of completion. We like things to be complete. We also like things to turn out in the end. If there is not an ending our minds will make one. Maybe this is because life itself doesn't always seem complete. Often things don't turn out right. Our desire for a happy ending goes unanswered...
Well, if you've been following along with us the last three weeks in our focus upon the Old Testament book of Ruth, you will see in this morning's scripture an ending, a happy ending. You will remember how it all began with a tragedy, something that could not be avoided. Husbands and sons all died, leaving two women widowed, poor, childless and, so it seemed, hopeless. Naomi, an Israelite who had journeyed with her husband and sons to a strange land, decided to pack up what little she had left and return home to Bethlehem. One of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, a local woman, not an Israelite, decided to go with her.
Upon their return to Bethlehem, Naomi voiced aloud her emptiness and bitterness in a complaint to God. Isn't "home" a place where cries of the heart can be spoken? Now, some folks say you shouldn't complain to God - and there is some truth in that sentiment. A person can get stuck in complaints, and not move on to something better. But, you know, I believe God is big enough to handle our complaints, and help us move beyond them. At least that was the case with Naomi. If you read this story through the eyes of faith, you will see that God was behind every scene. God did hear Naomi's cry, her complaint, and an answer was given. But was not really an answer to the question "why did this happen?" It was more an answer to the query "where do we go from here?" God's answer stood beside Naomi, in the form of her daughter-in-law Ruth.
Herself a victim of tragedy, Ruth was faced with numerous choices. She decided to remain with her mother-in-law. She chose to return with Naomi to a foreign home land, embracing a new people, and a new God. She elected to show kindness above and beyond the call of decency. While gleaning for leftovers in someone else's field, as the law permitted poor people to do, Ruth chose to go beyond the law and ask permission. The kindness she had chosen to live out is seen by the owner of the field, an older man named Boaz, who chose to multiply her kindness with his own. In a somewhat troubling scene at midnight on the threshing floor, Ruth decided to risk her future by placing herself at the mercy of this man Boaz, with the hope that he would himself make a responsible choice, which he did.
Every choice that was made by Ruth and Boaz in this story went above and beyond the call of duty, the demand of the law. Yes, other characters were faced with choices: Orpah, another daughter-in-law was persuaded by Naomi to go back to her own mother and father, and not return to Bethlehem. And, in this morning's scripture reading, the nameless next of kin chooses not to accept responsibility for Naomi two Ruth. In so doing, he opens the way for Boaz to make things right. These others are not looked down upon for the choices they made. They answer the call of duty, they live up to the law. But Ruth and Boaz went beyond it. Through their responsible choices, they become God's answer to Naomi's cry.
Death had left Naomi powerless, a widow in foreign land, without children or money. All she had was a faithful daughter-in-law ... and God at work, behind the scenes. With her poverty in mind, we might be a bit confused over a plot of land spoken of in this morning's scripture. If she owned this property, what was her problem, we might ask. There are two possibilities. First, when her family originally left Bethlehem, in the middle of a drought, bankruptcy may have forced them to sell this land and move. If so, the law in Leviticus 25 made provision for a relative to help them buy back what was originally theirs. This relative was called a "redeemer."
A second option might be that in leaving their property for so long a time, others may have moved onto it and, after a time, claimed rightful ownership. A "redeemer" would also be needed, in this instance, to make a case for those whose land had been seized. Whether through bankruptcy or the homesteading of others, Naomi does not really own the field. But a "redeemer" has stepped forward to restore what was originally hers, to make things right. That "redeemer" was Boaz. At the city gates, where, in that day and age, legal disputes were handled, a debt was forgiven, and Naomi and Ruth are restored to a place in the community.
Talk of ownership may be confusing to us today. For Boaz to acquire Ruth to be his wife does not sound "politically correct." But this story is not about women being the property of men. On the threshing floor the night before, Ruth chose Boaz. She claimed her future. Boaz helped by opening the door.
This word "redeemer" is familiar to us, even as it sounds strange in our present culture. When the Bible says that "you are not our own, you were bought with a price"(1 Corinthians 6:19-20), it does not mean that we are God's property, merely objects in the stockpile of royal treasures. Rather, it means that we, who had lost our inheritance, our rightful place in God's community, have been restored to what we were meant to be. A "redeemer" has stepped forward to help us, paying the price we could not, in our poverty, afford. While we can't pay our way out of debt, we can choose our "redeemer." That "redeemer" is Jesus.
This Jubilee parable of Ruth, and our own lives, intersect. This is our story. Death left Naomi and Ruth powerless, widows in foreign land, without children or money. But God was at work behind the scenes. And because of this, our story has a happy ending. No, an answer is not given concerning why the tragedy happened. We remain wondering. And no, things did not return to the way they used to be. You can't take away the hurt of losing three loved ones. In many ways that loss will remain with Naomi for the rest of her life. Grief is like that, otherwise we forget someone who was, and continues to be very important to us.
Ruth and Boaz marry. And the description of their coming together is powerful and subtle. Suffice it to say that the wings of God are expressed in the hearts and bodies of a man and a woman. Scripture says that it was God who made for the conception of a child, to which later Ruth gave birth. Hear this well. Such a statement should never be tossed at those who have tried and tried to have children. God bringing conception here does not say that God is absent from the struggles of others. Do remember, though, that Ruth was married for 10 years to Naomi's son, who then died. No child was born during that time. Ruth and Boaz, an older man, marry, and immediately a child is conceived. That child is an answer to bitterness and emptiness. "He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age," the women tell Naomi.
A restorer of life for Naomi's emptiness. But lest we place too much emphasis upon this tiny male child, we are reminded one last time in this story of the central character - Ruth, who was worth "more than 7 sons" to Naomi. Because of her kindness, which went above and beyond what was called for; because of the kindness of this woman, who became God's answer, the story has a happy ending.
Of course, things don't always work out that way. We only need turn to what immediately precedes Ruth's story in the Bible. The last few chapters of the book of Judges is a terrible example of people living out the law of God, but not searching for the heart of it. Everything is done wrong, though they do wrong in the correct way, according to the law. The law is misapplied because the heart of it is not understood. The story of Ruth is placed where it is in the Bible, because it shows the heart of the law lived out.
What is the heart of the law? Jesus himself said: "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, two soul, two your neighbor as yourself." Jesus expanded on those words by telling a parable about a Good Samaritan, a foreigner whose hospitality fulfills the law, going beyond it. Ruth is an Old Testament Good Samaritan. She is a foreigner who fulfills the law better than the Israelites who failed at living out the law. They did things correctly, but they didn't really do what was right. There is a difference between doing things right, and doing the right thing. The latter is called righteousness.
* * * * * * * * * * * *
This story has a happy ending. It is complete. Things turn out, eventually, in the end. But is does not leave us without a surprise. You see, it turns out that Ruth and Boaz just happen to be the great-grandparents of King David. As I said last week, more was at stake on that threshing floor than just the future of two women. The future of God's people traveled that route. Furthermore, we discover something very interesting in the very first words of the New Testament, in the gospel according to Matthew, which begins with are a genealogy. Forty seven names are listed, only five of which are women. Surprise, Ruth is one of these women who are in the lineage of Jesus Christ. Here is another child, Jesus, who will be the restorer of life and the nourisher of an entire world. The story goes on. If you wish to claim this story as your own, once again, or for the first time, please stand and sing of our "Blessed Assurance" in Jesus Christ, our redeemer.
Series on the book of Ruth: message #1, message #2, message #3,
©1993 Peter L. Haynes
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