Sunday, July 16, 2017

Found Family--a sermon on Ruth

Rev. Teri Peterson
Marchmont St. Giles, Edinburgh
Found Family
Ruth (most of the book) (CEB)
16 July 2017

During the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. A man with his wife and two sons went from Bethlehem of Judah to dwell in the territory of Moab. The name of that man was Elimelech, the name of his wife was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They entered the territory of Moab and settled there.
But Elimelech, Naomi’s husband, died. Then only she was left, along with her two sons. They took wives for themselves, Moabite women; the name of the first was Orpah and the name of the second was Ruth. And they lived there for about ten years.
But both of the sons, Mahlon and Chilion, also died. Only the woman was left, without her two children and without her husband.
Then she arose along with her daughters-in-law to return from the field of Moab, because while in the territory of Moab she had heard that the Lord had paid attention to his people by providing food for them. She left the place where she had been, and her two daughters-in-law went with her. They went along the road to return to the land of Judah.
Naomi said to her daughters-in-law, “Go, turn back, each of you to the household of your mother. May the Lord deal faithfully with you, just as you have done with the dead and with me. May the Lord provide for you so that you may find security, each woman in the household of her husband.” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept.
Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth stayed with her. Naomi said, “Look, your sister-in-law is returning to her people and to her gods. Turn back after your sister-in-law.”
But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Wherever you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord do this to me and more so if even death separates me from you.” When Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped speaking to her about it.
So both of them went along until they arrived at Bethlehem.

They arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.
Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field so that I may glean among the ears of grain behind someone in whose eyes I might find favor.”
Naomi replied to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went; she arrived and she gleaned in the field behind the harvesters. By chance, it happened to be the portion of the field that belonged to Boaz, who was from the family of Elimelech.
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem. He said to the harvesters, “May the Lord be with you.”
And they said to him, “May the Lord bless you.”
Boaz said to his young man who was overseeing the harvesters, “To whom does this young woman belong?”
He answered, “She’s a young Moabite woman, the one who returned with Naomi from the territory of Moab. She said, ‘Please let me glean so that I might gather up grain from among the bundles behind the harvesters.’ She arrived and has been on her feet from the morning until now, and has sat down for only a moment.”
Boaz said to Ruth, “Haven’t you understood, my daughter? Don’t go glean in another field; don’t go anywhere else. Instead, stay here with my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that they are harvesting and go along after them. I’ve ordered the young men not to assault you. Whenever you are thirsty, go to the jugs and drink from what the young men have filled.”
Then she bowed down, face to the ground, and replied to him, “How is it that I’ve found favor in your eyes, that you notice me? I’m an immigrant.”
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here, eat some of the bread, and dip your piece in the vinegar.” She sat alongside the harvesters, and he served roasted grain to her. She ate, was satisfied, and had leftovers. Then she got up to glean.
Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her glean between the bundles, and don’t humiliate her. Also, pull out some from the bales for her and leave them behind for her to glean. And don’t scold her.”
So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed what she had gleaned; it was about an ephah of barley. She picked it up and went into town. Her mother-in-law saw what she had gleaned. She brought out what she had left over after eating her fill and gave it to her.
Thus Ruth stayed with Boaz’s young women, gleaning until the completion of the barley and wheat harvests. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, shouldn’t I seek security for you, so that things might go well for you? Now isn’t Boaz, whose young women you were with, our relative? Tonight he will be winnowing barley at the threshing floor. You should bathe, put on some perfume, wear nice clothes, and then go down to the threshing floor. Don’t make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, notice the place where he is lying. Then go, uncover his feet, and lie down. And he will tell you what to do.”
Ruth replied to her, “I’ll do everything you are telling me.” So she went down to the threshing floor, and she did everything just as her mother-in-law had ordered.

In the morning, Boaz went up to the gate and sat down there. Just then, the redeemer about whom Boaz had spoken was passing by. He said, “Sir, come over here and sit down.” So he turned aside and sat down. Then he took ten men from the town’s elders and said, “Sit down here.” And they sat down.
Boaz said to the redeemer, “Naomi, who has returned from the field of Moab, is selling the portion of the field that belonged to Elimelech. I thought that I should let you know and say, ‘Buy it, in the presence of those sitting here and in the presence of the elders of my people.’ If you will redeem it, redeem it; but if you won’t redeem it, tell me so that I may know. There isn’t anyone to redeem it except you, and I’m next in line after you.”
He replied, “I will redeem it.”
Then Boaz said, “On the day when you buy the field from Naomi, you also buy Ruth the Moabite, the wife of the dead man, in order to preserve the dead man’s name for his inheritance.”
But the redeemer replied, “Then I can’t redeem it for myself, without risking damage to my own inheritance. Redeem it for yourself. You can have my right of redemption, because I’m unable to act as redeemer.”
So Boaz took Ruth, and she became his wife.
He was intimate with her, the Lord let her become pregnant, and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi, “May the Lord be blessed, who today hasn’t left you without a redeemer. May his name be proclaimed in Israel. He will restore your life and sustain you in your old age. Your daughter-in-law who loves you has given birth to him. She’s better for you than seven sons.” Naomi took the child and held him to her breast, and she became his guardian. The neighborhood women gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They called his name Obed. He became Jesse’s father and David’s grandfather.


Yesterday afternoon I spent a few minutes perusing the website It’s a place where people can find groups that share interests—everything from walking to horror movies, sparkling wine to raw food, board games to a cappella singing, and so much more. There are multiple groups that offer people the chance to just go out for lunch of after-work drinks so they don’t have to get a table for one. Many groups here in Edinburgh say that they organize small events so that people can really get to know one another, rather than feeling lost in a crowd. There are hundreds of groups, and some have thousands of members. Nearly every group I clicked on said some variation of the same goal: to make friends.

This is something that comes up a lot when I talk to people my age—we don’t know how to make friends as adults, now that we don’t have the built-in community of a university residence hall or the familiarity of school friends, and most of us didn’t get married and have children right out of college. Our individualistic culture has left many people, of every generation, not just mine, lonely. We are longing for connection, common ground, people with whom we can laugh and cry and explore and learn and share and eat. 

That longing is where Naomi found herself after her husband and sons had died. She was alone, or thought she was. When she returned to her hometown she even told people not to call her Naomi anymore—because it means “pleasant”—but to call her Mara, which means “bitter.” Yet through all her lonely and sad days, a younger woman walked beside her on the road. Ruth, a foreigner and a generation younger, insisted on staying…and then not just staying by Naomi’s side, but going out to find friends for them both, building up a community once again, without even the internet to help.

I have probably read the book of Ruth a dozen times, and somehow have never noticed the sheer number of people in the cast of characters. We usually just focus on Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, and then move on to the fact that Ruth, a foreign immigrant, became the great-grandmother of King David and therefore ancestor of Jesus. But in addition to them, we find Boaz’s workers, and the womenfolk who work in the fields beside Ruth. There are ten men who witness to the scene at the city gate between Boaz and the other possible redeemer. There are women who surround Naomi at the end of the story, celebrating all that God has done, and are even the ones to name Ruth’s son. In just four short chapters, Naomi and Ruth go from being an unlikely pair—an older Israelite woman and a younger Gentile woman, alone in the world, vulnerable, outcast, dependent on the mercy of strangers—to being the center of a found family, brought together not by blood but by faithfulness. 

Ruth tells Naomi “where you go, I will go…your God will be my God…your people will be my people…” She has seen Naomi’s faith, and that inspires her own. And back in Bethlehem, it is Boaz’s faithfulness to God’s law in Deuteronomy that makes his field safe and prosperous for those in need to glean behind the workers. The women who gather round sing praise to God who has brought them together and made a new family where once there was only despair, starting with the simple love between two generations of women.

It’s a beautiful picture of what the church can be. What if the Body of Christ was where we found family? The connection people are looking for through meetup and Facebook is built in to our calling. The family of the church is bound together by faithfulness, across bounds of age and race and class, as we share where we have seen God at work, and give thanks together. The vulnerable are cared for, the privileged stand up for what is right, people in the midst of grief or trauma or stress are surrounded with support. In our baptismal vows we offer young people extra aunts and uncles and grandparents to nurture them, and those whose relatives live far away find people with whom to share their stories and wisdom. We rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep…we learn from one another, and lean on each other when we feel like we’re wandering in the wilderness, and offer our resources to those in need. Because God first loved us, we love…like family, for that is what we are.

May it be so. Amen.

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