First United Methodist Church
Plymouth, Indiana

A Guardian for the Ages

A Guardian for the Ages; Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17
Plymouth First United Methodist Church; November 7, 2021
Pastor Toni Carmer

As Scott and I were raising our three children, we equally encouraged each of them, telling them that they could be and do whatever they wanted to be and do, as long as they were willing to work for it, and to give their best effort. Doing this, they would succeed.

Our daughter received the same encouragement as our sons. Though we know “equal opportunity” is a guiding principle in our country and culture and that there are ways in which we fall short of that ideal, we still seek to achieve that goal and would not accept anything but fair treatment for our daughters.

Which is why when we read about Naomi and Ruth and Orpah and learn how widows (as well as orphans) were treated in the ancient world, we’re shocked and saddened.  For a woman to be treated as second class and become impoverished through no fault of her own, but because of the death of her husband.  In ancient days, a woman would not only have to deal with grief at her husband’s death, but with her loss of everything she once was and had.

You’ll remember that we began the story of the book of Ruth last week, which interestingly enough begins and ends with Naomi.  Naomi had traveled with her husband Elimelech to Moab (considered enemy territory) during a time of famine in their home in Bethlehem. While living in Moab, Elimelech died, leaving Naomi with their two sons to raise.  These sons eventually married Moabite women before also dying young, as their father had before them. 

In Moab, Naomi was separated from her own kin and culture, which provided for widows through Levirate marriage, a practice that expected a man to marry and provide for his brother’s widow, even providing a child in his brother’s name, who could be responsible for her welfare in her old age.  But Elimelech had no brother or relative in Moab and both of his sons had died, so there was no brother to provide for Naomi or Orpah and Ruth. 

For ten years, the three women did their best, but then Naomi realized it was time to go back home to Bethlehem.  You’ll remember from last week how Naomi had convinced her daughter-in-law Orpah to stay in Moab, to rebuild her life among her own people. But Ruth remained with Naomi, committing herself to stay with her for the rest of her life.

The two women return to Bethlehem at the start of the barley harvest.  This was one of the times of the year when the poor were able to provide themselves a means of—at least some security—through gleaning.  In Deuteronomy (24:19) God’s people were instructed “When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it; it shall be left for the alien, the orphan, and the widow, so that the LORD your God may bless you in all your undertakings.”  We can imagine that it had to take a lot of gathering of stray barley sheathes to make a loaf of bread, but that’s how Ruth and Naomi could survive.

Somehow, Ruth ends up gleaning in a field owned by Boaz.  Boaz notices Ruth and seems to be attracted to her. He notices how hard Ruth works at what would be considered demeaning labor.  Through the grapevine, he has heard the story of the loss of her husband, her brother-in-law and father-in-law.  He is impressed that she has chosen to move from the home of her family in Moab to be with her mother-in-law in Bethlehem.  Extra-biblical stories surrounding this text tell us that Boaz’s wife has recently died and so he is a widower, too. 

Ruth comes home at night after gleaning all day and tells Naomi about Boaz who has not only been kind to her, but who has also told her that she should glean in only his fields.  Sometimes other harvesters and land owners would treat gleaners harshly, but Boaz knew that if Ruth stayed in his fields that he could provide protection for her, without her even realizing it.  He also invites Ruth to drink water from the jugs his young men have drawn, and to eat lunch with he and the other harvesters.  She is able to eat her fill and take what’s left home to Naomi.  And the amount that she gleans each day is more than it would have been, as Boaz has instructed his workers to pull out some extra from their bales so that she’ll have more to gather. 

Ruth expresses her gratitude but doesn’t seem to notice that Boaz has twinkly eyes for her. 

But Naomi notices.  She tells Ruth that Boaz is a close relative: he is related through Elimelech.  She tells Ruth, “He is one of our redeemers.”  But Ruth doesn’t question what that might mean. She continues to work in Boaz’s fields through the end of the barley and wheat harvests, which is from April through June.

Which gives Naomi enough time to come up with a plan.

Ruth trusts Naomi and follows her instructions when Naomi tells her to dress up, put on some perfume, and to go to the threshing floor where Boaz would be staying. The owners and workers would remain at the threshing floor at the end of the harvest to prevent theft or vandalism.  Ruth is to wait until Boaz finishes eating and drinking, and then watch for the place he goes to lie down to sleep for the night.  Naomi tells Ruth to uncover his legs and to lay down at his feet.  Boaz, she says, will tell her what to do from there.

Ruth does what Naomi has told her to do. Boaz wakes up in the middle of the night, sees his legs are uncovered and is confused about what has happened. He sees a woman lying at his feet but he isn’t sure who it is. Ruth identifies herself, and tells Boaz that he is her redeemer, the one who would appropriately marry her, and invites him to cover her up with his robe, which would be considered a marriage proposal.  Boaz is pleased that Ruth has chosen him but tells her that another man is a closer relative, who would rightfully be her first redeemer.  Boaz tells Ruth that he will inquire of the man, and if he doesn’t agree to be her redeemer, then Boaz will marry her.  He tells Ruth to sleep till morning, and leave before first light so she isn’t recognized.  She does as he tells her, and before she leaves, he gives her six measures of barley, which would be a huge amount.  She places the grain in her apron and returns to Naomi.

Boaz follows through the next day, going into town, finding the first redeemer, and inviting him to sit down to talk.  He then recruits 10 townspeople to sit down with them as well, to serve as witnesses.  Boaz informs the other relative that Naomi has a piece of property that is rightfully his as first redeemer, property that had originally belonged to Elimelech.  The man agrees to take the property, but when Boaz continues, telling him that a woman or two comes with the deal, the first redeemer declines the responsibility, expressing concern about the inheritance he will someday pass on.  He tells Boaz that he can be the redeemer.  Boaz agrees to the plan and then publicly announces to the gathered witnesses his intent to be Ruth’s redeemer; he will take her as his wife.

After their marriage Ruth and Boaz have a son named Obed.

It’s a great story, isn’t it?  We love stories that end with good news, particularly when there was heartache in its telling, but there’s more good news in the story for us to hear. 

First, it’s important for us to remember that God works through unexpected people; often through pretty ordinary people.  (Even women!!)  And yet, that’s what God did, God worked through Naomi, through Ruth—who was not only plagued by virtue of her gender, but who also happened to be a foreigner/an outcast/an outsider/an enemy of God’s people. And yet God worked. 

God continues to work today: through unexpected people, through difficult circumstances, even when our faith falters and we wonder if God is still with us…if God still cares.  

Life had been so difficult for Naomi:  when she returned to Bethlehem from Moab, and the women call her by name, she tells them, “Do not call me Naomi (which means pleasant) but call me Mara (which means bitter).”  At that time in her life, Naomi was convinced that God was punishing her. She had lost so much.

But by the end of our story, she is once again called Naomi.  By the end of the story, Ruth’s life has been redeemed by Boaz and Naomi’s life has been redeemed by Ruth, who has given her a grandson.  Naomi has the joy of becoming nurse to Obed, and every time she holds him, she is holding her future…she’s holding our future.

Obed is a child of redemption.  The Book of Ruth ends, telling us that Obed is the Father of Jesse, who is the Father of David (who will become king).  In the generations to come, in the genealogy of the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, Ruth’s name is included there—this foreigner, this enemy, this faithful convert to the faith—she is ancestor of the One who would come to redeem us all: Jesus the Christ. 

As I read and considered this story on this All Saints Sunday, I can’t help but think about our saints who held us in their arms and how we became their future. 

Some of them gave us our faith, some of us our hair coloring or the dimples in our cheeks.  Some of them were amazing and steady while others were pretty ordinary, maybe somewhat broken and frail.  But we’re here today because they gave us what they had…

And I think of the ones who we hold in our arms, how they’re our future.  And how we can give them the best of who we are/the best of what we have…that they will know they are beloved of us—and most especially, that they are beloved by God.

May this bring us hope and blessing.  Amen.