Monday, February 12, 2018

Sermon: Ruth 3: 1-18 Requesting Redemption

The story of Ruth feels as if it’s a four-part television series. So forgive me if we start (as we did this morning!) with a ‘Previously in the Romance of Redemption...’ Whether this is a reminder or a catch-up, here’s the story so far. Naomi, her husband and two sons had left Bethlehem in a time of famine. They went to the land of Moab, where tragedy struck. Naomi’s husband died, then after their weddings to Moabite women, the two sons also died.

Naomi returned to Bethlehem - intending to come alone, but was joined by her daughter-in-law Ruth, who pledged her loyalty to her. Naomi was bitter and empty, blaming God for all her troubles. That was chapter 1. Then last week, we saw the Ruth took the initiative to go and glean, picking up the spare heads of grain behind the harvesters in order to feed her and Naomi. She sought, and then found favour in the fields of Boaz, as he modelled the favour and grace of God in his kindness and compassion for her. And last week’s cliffhanger was that Naomi revealed (2:20) that he was a kinsman-redeemer. We didn’t really know what that was last week, but we’ll see what that means as we follow the latest instalment in Ruth’s redemption story.

As the chapter begins, we find the driving force, the big need in verse 1: ‘My daughter, should I not try to find rest for you, where you will be well provided for?’ Now, the NIV says ‘find a home for you...’, but the footnote which says that the Hebrew actually says ‘rest’ shows the main concern of Naomi.

You see, it’s not just a home that Naomi wants for Ruth. After all, they must have a home where they’re living already - Ruth and Naomi. But Ruth needs ‘rest’, she needs that place of security and provision, which in that culture at that time meant married life. Naomi realises that Ruth can’t keep gleaning from harvest to harvest - she needs the security of a home, the place of rest for the rest of her life.

And Naomi realises that she needs to sort it out for Ruth. Notice that back in chapter 2 it was Ruth who took the initiative, suggesting the gleaning that would give them something to eat. But now Naomi is taking charge, caring for her daughter-in-law, seeking to provide the rest that Ruth needs.

And right in the centre of her target is this man called Boaz (2). Ruth is already aware of him, having worked with his servant girls, and having met him in the fields. And we’re reminded again in verse 2 that he is ‘a kinsman of ours.’ Now, kinsman is just another way of saying relative, a member of the extended Elimelech family. But bear in mind that Naomi uses that word kinsman. It’ll help us later on.

And so Naomi tells Ruth to go and get ready. She’s going out tonight. But it’s not on a date, as such. And it’s not to dinner, or to a nightclub. But she is going to get her man. Now, if you are planning to get ready for a date this Valentine’s Day, then you might find some sensible wisdom here about how to get ready - wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Now she isn’t getting dressed up for dinner in a fancy five star restaurant. Instead, she’s going to the threshing floor.

It’s the end of the barley harvest, Boaz will be winnowing, separating the grain from the chaff. And it’ll be party time. He’ll be in a good mood, because the work is done. And when he has eaten and drank, and lay down, then, Naomi says, go and uncover his feet, and lie down.

Now, how would you react if you had been told to do all that? Put on your best clothes, to lie down in the farmyard, at the feet of the man you hope will marry you. To our ears it seems like strange advice. And, in the dead of night, it may seem slightly dodgy.

But Ruth does what she was told. And then in verse 8, Boaz is startled in the middle of the night, to find someone at his feet. Remember, it’s properly dark - no streetlights or security lights. It’s impossible to see clearly. He’s had a shock. So what’s going on?

I wonder if you’ve ever had a similar experience. One time at BB Camp, our tent was a little bit too rowdy when we were meant to be settling for sleep. And from the lights of the cookhouse, we could see one of the officers standing outside the tent. So someone had the bright idea to shout out - oh look, it must be Robert outside, look at the shadow of his big ears... But it wasn’t Robert. It was the strictest of the officers, who told us all to report to him at 6am the next morning to do some extra duties...

Boaz can’t really see, doesn’t know what is happening, or why there’s a woman lying at his feet. So he asks the right question: ‘Who are you?’ And in the rest of verse 9 we get Ruth’s answer, and also her request: ‘I am your servant Ruth. Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer.’

Now, Ruth isn’t just asking that he put some of his blanket over her because she is cold. No, she’s asking him for coverage, protection, even redemption - and we know that because of those last words: ‘You are a kinsman-redeemer.’

You see, in the Old Testament Law, it says ‘If one of your countrymen becomes poor and sells some of his property, his nearest relative is to come and redeem what his countryman has sold.’ (Lev 25:25). So if someone fell into poverty, and sold their family inheritance, their share of the promised land, then a family member could redeem it - to buy it back, and to buy them out of slavery.

Because Naomi and Ruth had no husbands or sons, they needed this kinsman-redeemer, a cousin or uncle or some other relative to act as their go-el, their redeemer. And that’s the request Ruth is making in this midnight encounter. You know that I’m in need Boaz – not just in terms of my poverty and my need; but also for the good of the family lands – spread the corner of your garment over me! It is a request for protection, for cover, for redemption. Ruth acknowledges her poverty to Boaz, confesses her need, and appeals for Boaz to act for her.

We’ve heard the request, and now we see how Boaz responds. Last week in chapter 2 we saw how Boaz was ‘a man of standing’ - a worthy man. And again we see the worthy man in action, as he cares for her, and expresses his admiration for her. He identifies her kindness - in not running after younger men, but rather fixing her attention on him (we get a hint that he’s older than her).

He also highlights the fact that she is ‘a woman of noble character’ - with those echoes of Proverbs 31, the wife of noble character, who can find? So our fears that this whole business of her going to him at night is immoral, or dodgy, should be put at ease. She’s a noble character. He’s a man of standing. In this culture, this is acceptable.

It all sounds so positive, things seem to be coming together so well, and then the next problem arises in verse 12. Naomi had got her calculations with her relatives wrong. Although it’s probably easy enough done. I remember at my granny’s wake being introduced to family members I’d never met before! When it comes to families, it’s all relative. And Naomi had made a mistake. Yes, Boaz is a kinsman, but there’s someone closer connected who should have first opportunity to help.

And so Boaz will sort it out in the morning. He’ll offer him the chance to redeem, to buy back out of slavery. If he takes it, good, but if not, then Boaz will jump at the chance himself. In the meantime, Ruth spends the rest of the night at his feet, then leaves before sunrise, so that no one knows she has been to see him. And again, he doesn’t let her leave empty handed, again he graces her with an abundant gift - six measures of barley.

And at this point, with the last verse in the chapter, we hear the echo of those Eastender cliffhanger dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dum dums again. ‘Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today.’

Naomi wanted to give Ruth rest - now we’re told that Boaz won’t rest until he has sorted the matter. But for us, it won’t be today that we find out what happens. It’ll be in a fortnight. Do come back to hear how it all ends!

But tonight, what is God showing us in this chapter? We’ve seen Ruth’s trouble, her need, and how she appeals for help to her kinsman-redeemer. She requests redemption. Can you see the parallels with our situation? Have you cried out to your kinsman-redeemer?

You know the need we have. Ruth was in need because of her poverty, her slavery, because her inheritance had been sold. We are also in need, in poverty and slavery. We’ve sold ourselves to the devil, given up our birthright - through the action and choice of Adam and Eve in believing the lie of the serpent.

By nature and choice, we agree with that original sin. We’re just as needy, even though we can’t see it. As Jesus says to the church in Laodicea, ‘You say, “I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.” But you do not realise that you are wretched, pitiful, poor blind and naked.’ (Rev 3:17)

That’s our need. But we have a kinsman-redeemer, a relative who is able to buy us back from slavery, to redeem us from our need. Ephesians 1 tells us that we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins. We have the Holy Spirit as a deposit, a guarantee of our inheritance until our redemption. On the cross, Jesus has done the work of redemption - paying the price so that we could be forgiven, bought back from sin, and freed from our slavery. The redemption is freely available, if we will just cry out to our redeemer!

Just acknowledge your need. Confess to him that you can’t do it on your own. That you need his help. His rescue. His redemption. And he will indeed redeem you.

Can you echo these words of Ruth, and make them your own, as you cry out to Jesus?

‘I am your servant. Spread the corner of your garment over me, for you are a kinsman-redeemer.’

This sermon was preached in St Matthew's Church, Richhill on Sunday evening 11th February 2018.

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