Sermon for 14 Pentecost Narrative Lectionary

Mark 10:17-31

 

This week, as I was reflecting on today’s Gospel text in preparation for this sermon, I saw an episode of a TV show and a movie where a character in each story had to sacrifice the thing that they loved most in order for their evil plots to move forward. In the first season of the show “Once Upon a Time” that aired on ABC until recently, the Evil Queen had to kill the thing that she loved most in order for her curse upon all of the fairy tale characters to work. She thought at first that it was her favorite horse, but when killing the horse didn’t get the curse to work, she discovered that what she loved most in the world was her father. And yes, she killed her father so the curse would work. Vengeance was more important to her than love. A similar thing happens in the movie “Avengers: Infinity War”. As the bad guy, Thanos, is collecting infinity stones in order to carry out his evil plot, he discovers that he cannot get one of the stones he needs, the Soul Stone, without sacrificing the thing that he loves most. Gomorah, his adopted daughter who is trying to stop him, is gleeful because she thinks that Thanos doesn’t love anything. But what she discovers is that Thanos does, in fact, love her, and he kills her so that he can possess the Soul Stone.

While I hate to make a connection between stories where characters kill the person they love the most in order for something bad to happen and the story that we hear today, when Jesus tells the rich man to sell all his possessions, I think that there is a connection to be made. In the case of the TV episode and the movie, love of someone stands in the way of the bad guys getting the thing that they want the most. In the case of the rich man who runs up to Jesus, love of stuff is standing in the way of his inheriting eternal life. And as we hear this story, we should be squirming in our seats in discomfort, because which one of us does not love the stuff that we have? For example, I have a lot of books. Those of you who have been in my office or my apartment will know this: I have books everywhere. Believe it or not, each of those books has some sentimental attachment to me. The books that I have in my study contain knowledge that I may need for the work that I do as your pastor. And each of the books that I have in my home contains a story that has some sentimental meaning for me; that spoke to me at some point in my life, and that I remember fondly. If Jesus asked me to give up all of my possessions, there would be some things I could get rid of quite easily, but I think my books is what I would have the hardest time with. And when I hear this story, I wonder if all of those books are standing in the way of my relationship with Jesus.

That, I think, is what Jesus was trying to say to this man and to his disciples: not that we all need to give up all of our possessions, but rather, what are those things standing in the way of your relationship with God? If you look at other stories in Scripture, Jesus does not demand that each person that he meets give up all of his or her possessions. In the Gospel of Luke, for example, when Zacchaeus, he of the short stature, says that he will give away half of his possessions, Jesus does not tell him he should give all of them away. Instead, Jesus tells Zacchaeus that on that day, salvation has come to his house. So the question becomes, what’s going on with this rich man in Mark’s Gospel? Why is he different from Zacchaeus, who was also rich? And this is what it comes down to: the nameless rich man is an observant Jewish man who has done all that he can to keep the commandments. And yet, he still feels like something is missing, which is why he asks what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus looks at the man and sees that all of his possessions are keeping him from living a fuller and closer life to God. And that’s why Jesus tells the man to sell his possessions, give the money to the poor, and to follow him. And the man goes away, grieving, because he has many possessions. We don’t know whether he eventually decided to do what Jesus said or not. We are left to wrestle with that question, and to wrestle with what we would do in that situation, and to wrestle with how God is calling us to use our possessions.

And so, again, I don’t think that Jesus is necessarily telling us to give away all of our possessions, too, although there have been many examples throughout history of both men and women choosing to do that. St. Francis of Assisi is one; Mother Theresa another. But I do think that Jesus is asking us to examine our lives and to see if there is something that we love that is standing in the way of a fuller relationship with him. Mark Allan Powell opens his book, Giving to God, with a story that he acknowledges is probably the equivalent of an urban legend, but one that illustrates this point well. There was an ancient people group who lived in what is today known as France called the Gauls, and they were a very warlike people. Christian missionaries came into the area and converted many of these Gauls to the faith. However, when they were baptized, the converted warriors would hold one arm out of the water as the rest of their body was dunked into the water. That way, when the next war broke out, the warrior could say, “This arm is not baptized!” and go off to fight the battle.

What is that arm that is “not baptized” for you? What is that part of yourself that you are keeping close to you so that you don’t have to surrender that part of your life to God? For many of us, that answer could very well be money. What are some of the justifications we use for not giving more money to the church? One of those might be, “We’ve had a large sum of money left to us by someone in their will so the church doesn’t really need more of my money.” Or, “What Jesus really wants is my heart, so it doesn’t matter how much money I give as long as I give a little something.” Or, “I don’t like what the preacher keeps preaching in sermons so I’m not going to give to the church until she’s gone.” All these things are as if we are waving our wallets in the air and saying, “My wallet isn’t baptized, so I can do with it what I will.” And it is in this way that money becomes more important to us than doing God’s will, and it stands in the way of a closer relationship with Jesus.

Jesus said to his disciples, and he says to us, his 21st century disciples, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” Now, you may be thinking to yourselves that you’re not rich. By American standards, no, most of us in this room are not rich. We watch our budgets very carefully. When we have unexpected large expenses, we either add to our credit card debt or we beg the company to whom we owe the debt for some kind of extended payment plan. Some of us live paycheck to paycheck. But here’s the thing: when we compare ourselves to people around the world, those of us who classify ourselves as the 99% in America would be classified as the 1% by people in other countries. And so, it is good for all of us to examine the relationship we have with our money, and to ask ourselves how God would have us use that money to help others around us who are in need.

Now, here’s the good news. The disciples, upon hearing Jesus’ camel through the eye of a needle remark, look around and ask, “Then who can be saved?” Perhaps they recognize themselves in that statement, although Peter claims a little bit later that they have left everything to follow Jesus. But Jesus tells the disciples that, even though by human standards it is next to impossible for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God, it is different with God. For God, all things are possible. This is part of what that means: we’re going to mess this up. We can examine our relationship with money and decide that we can give some more, but I guarantee you that there will be some opportunity that we will miss, or an instance where we decide that we can’t give when we really could have. But that doesn’t mean that we will miss entering the kingdom of God, because with God all things are possible. Our entry to the kingdom of God is not dependent on what we do or don’t do, thanks be to God! It is dependent only on God’s love for us and God’s forgiveness of us for the times that we miss the mark, and that love and forgiveness never fails.

Martin Luther wrote, “If you are rich and see that your neighbor is poor, serve him with your possessions; if you do not do this you are not now a Christian. This is what we are to do with all our possessions, both spiritual and material.” All that we claim that we own in fact is not ours; it all belongs to God. We are merely stewards, or caretakers, of God’s creation. And that means that we are to share what we have with others, so that all may be fed and clothed and live the abundant life that Jesus came to earth to give us. So, what is it that is standing in our way of a closer relationship with God? Let’s examine ourselves, ask forgiveness for the times that we have failed, and seek, with God’s help, to use our possessions to benefit others and in so doing, catch glimpses of the kingdom of God here on earth. Amen.

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Sermon for 13 Pentecost Narrative Lectionary

Matthew 6:19-34

Today we are starting a 3-week sermon series on the topic of stewardship. Now, for many of you, if I say that word, you’re automatically going to think that the church is going to ask for money. Stewardship does include finances, and we are going to be talking about our money and how we use it during this sermon series, but we’re also going to be expanding our definition of stewardship and looking at how we are called to be stewards of all the gifts that God has given us. Those gifts do include money, but they also include the time that we have been given, as well as the skills that we have been given, the place that we have been given to live, and many other things as well.

And so, I want to start with a definition of what stewardship is. Being a steward started out with royalty: a steward was that household servant who was responsible for bringing food and drink to the master in the dining hall. Remember that the old word for “airline attendant” was steward or stewardess? That’s where that came from. Eventually the definition of the word “steward” expanded so that the person who was the steward of a household was responsible for managing all of the details regarding the upkeep of the castle or manor house. A steward in this situation was responsible for collecting rents from the tenants, for example, or managing the finances of the household, hiring and firing employees, and so on and so forth. What was key, though, in this position, was that the steward knew that even though he had great power over the household, none of the things that he managed belonged to him: they all belonged to his master. And that’s where we as Christians need to begin as we think about stewardship. Even though we say that things belong to us in our common language, the truth is that we are simply stewards of everything we see. All of this: our houses, our property, our animals, our money, even our time and our talents, all of that really belongs to God. They are given to us only for the time that we live here on earth to use and to manage wisely, all for the glory of God.

And so, with that framework of what it means to be a steward in mind, let’s take a look at our Gospel text for today. This is part of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus is laying out what a Christian community looks like and how it behaves. And the majority of the section that we have in front of us today is concerned with anxiety, and so that’s how I’d like to frame today’s conversation about stewardship. We live in very anxious times. Some of us take medicine for anxiety, and that’s okay—there are legitimate medical disorders where that’s necessary to control the body’s fight or flight responses, and that medication helps the person to be mentally healthy. I want to be clear that this is not the kind of anxiety I’m talking about today, and I’m fairly certain this is not the kind of anxiety that Jesus had in mind. The kind of anxiety that Jesus is talking about is the kind that would be normal for any person to have, especially a Mediterranean peasant in the 1st century: where is my next meal going to come from; how am I going to feed my family; how am I going to clothe myself and my family. And Jesus doesn’t dismiss those everyday worries out of hand. Instead, he reframes them: if God takes care of the birds and the grass of the field, then God will certainly take care of God’s children who are made in God’s image. It’s a matter of trusting that God will take care of everything that we need, so that we can strive for more important things in life.

Jesus telling us not to worry about things like food, drink, and clothing connects with his previous statement: “No one can serve two masters. … You cannot serve God and wealth.” If we think of wealth, or rather, money, as something that belongs to us, then we are going to use that money for ourselves. We will spend it on everything our heart desires, rather than ask ourselves how God would have us spend that money. Or, we will hoard it, because we worry that we won’t be able to feed ourselves properly or pay our bills unless we have every little penny that we can get our hands on. Or, we use that money to get more money and to have more power by having that money. That’s what having money as our master looks like.

But if God is truly our God, rather than money, then we will see money as something that God gives us in order not only to provide for our needs, but also to share with others to help provide for their needs. Let’s look at another part of today’s Gospel, where Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Mark Allan Powell, author of Giving to God, talks about how he was listening to a Bonnie Raitt song one day where she sang about how you can’t make your heart feel something that it won’t. And he says that when Jesus says, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also,” he is challenging that way of thinking. As an example from my own life: Before the recent news about immigration hit the media, I knew about Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services, but I had never given to them before. That simply wasn’t a cause that was near and dear to my heart. Once the news about separation of families at our southern border hit the media, I looked for a way I could help, and I decided to give to Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Services to help them in the work that they do. And now, my heart is engaged where I sent my monetary treasure. I read more about the work that this agency does and the theological foundation for it, and I want to give money to them again because I believe they’re doing good work. Sometimes we have to decide to give because we know it’s the right thing to do, and then once we have invested our treasure in that place, let our hearts catch up to where we’ve sent our treasure.

So, here’s the ask: are you giving to the church because it’s the right thing to do and are you waiting for your heart to catch up? Or, is your heart already caught up to your treasure? Are you not giving at all? If so, can you give something? If you are giving something, can you trust God to provide for your needs and give a little bit more? If your mind and your heart needs some reasons to give, here are some of the things that we as a congregation have been doing in the last year or so:

Salem

  • In conjunction with SOHL, we have hosted and participated in Vacation Bible School, participated in a Blessing of the Animals, and we hope to add a Live Nativity to that list this year.
  • We have given to local food banks, Lutheran World Relief, Lutheran Disaster Response, and contributed food and volunteers to Family Promise when St. John’s has hosted it.
  • We have hosted a joint weekly adult Bible study with St. John’s on Thursday mornings.

 

St. John’s:

  • We have hosted homeless families in our building for a week at a time through Family Promise.
  • We have hosted free community breakfasts once a month and had a clothes bank where those in need can get free clothes.
  • We have had free ice cream socials for the community during the summer months.
  • We have given to Lutheran World Relief and Lutheran Disaster Response.
  • In September, and hopefully again after that, we will be hosting a community dinner in conjunction with St. Nicholas Serbian Orthodox Church.
  • In October, we will be hosting Menchey Music as they present a community music recital.
  • We have had a Fall Festival and a Winter Festival for the children in our community.
  • Our youth have participated in the Harrisburg Area Youth Initiative, and have collected items to be given to Caitlin’s Smiles, a local charity that helps sick children get through their hospitalization by giving them arts and crafts to do.
  • Our confirmation-age youth have participated in a cooperative confirmation program with other area congregations.
  • In conjunction with SOHL, we have participated in a joint Vacation Bible School, a Blessing of the Animals, and we hope to add a Live Nativity this December.
  • We have a joint weekly adult Bible study with Salem on Thursday mornings.

 

In these things and more, we are fulfilling our mission statement: to spread God’s Word and to show God’s love in our community. And because of your generosity, we have been able to accomplish these things even with the small numbers of people that we have. And so, we are asking that your hearts will continue to follow the treasure that you are already giving, and we pray for those of you who are giving, that you would be able to increase what you are giving, and for those of you who are not, that the Lord would move your hearts to give what you are able to give, with a glad and generous heart.

Jesus tells us not to worry about what we will eat or drink or wear. Jesus gives us lots of hard commands to follow, but this one is especially hard because he is telling us to put aside our most basic instincts and to trust in God for provision. As your pastor, I want you to know that I don’t have this down perfectly. I struggle with my instincts to cling to what I get so that I can survive. I don’t always trust in God’s provision. And so if you tell me that you struggle with that too, I want you to know that I get it. And God understands as well, and there is always forgiveness when we come to God and confess that we have not trusted that God will provide. But I urge you this week to pray over these words of Jesus, “But strive first for the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Whatever part of striving for God’s kingdom and righteousness God is calling you to, trust in God and follow that calling with all of your heart. And if your heart’s not in it right away, try putting your treasure there first and then wait for your heart to catch up. God will be there waiting for you—always. Amen.

Sermon for Pentecost 12 Narrative Lectionary

Ruth 4

Today we hear the conclusion to the story of Ruth. Again, I would just like to review the story up to this point: Naomi, Elimelech, and their two sons journey to Moab from Bethlehem because there is a famine. While they are in Moab, Elimelech dies, the two sons get married, and then the two sons die, leaving Naomi alone with her two foreign daughters-in-law. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem, and one of her daughters-in-law, Ruth, goes with her. They arrive at the beginning of the barley harvest, and Ruth goes to glean in the fields so that she and Naomi will have some food. As it happens, Ruth is gleaning in the fields belonging to Boaz, who is related to Naomi’s dead husband, Elimelech. Boaz shows kindness to Ruth and makes sure she has enough grain to bring home for her and Naomi. As it turns out, Boaz is not only a relative, but he is also what in Hebrew is known as a go’el, a man responsible for redeeming property that the family has lost due to poverty or war, and also for making sure that family members are protected. In Chapter 3, Naomi tells Ruth to go to the threshing floor to speak to Boaz, and Ruth proposes marriage to him. Boaz tells her that he will do so, but that there is another go’el who is more closely related to Naomi than he is, but that he will settle the matter in the morning. And today we have the account of how Boaz does settle this matter.

The first thing Boaz does is to sit down and talk with the go’el who is first in line to redeem the parcel of land that Naomi is selling, that we just find out about now in the story. And he does this in the presence of witnesses, so that everyone will know that he is doing the right thing and not just taking the land and Ruth as his wife without consulting the man who is first in line to do so. And we see that Boaz is a shrewd negotiator. Whoever the man was who was first in line, he is more interested in the land that belonged to Elimelech than he is in Ruth. And this first go’el is not named, which is also appropriate, since he ends up refusing to maintain the name of Elimelech and his sons in the town of Bethlehem. What we see in this negotiation scene is that Boaz, in contrast to the unnamed first go’el, is more interested in Ruth than he is in the piece of land, and we see him skillfully trapping the other man to give up his right of redemption, so that Boaz can marry Ruth. And what is more interesting to me is this: when Boaz publicly proclaims both that he has acquired the land and that he will be marrying Ruth, the people of Bethlehem witness this and bless Boaz. They pray that Ruth may bear children for Boaz, which is the highest form of praise they could give for a woman who was about to be married. And it doesn’t matter to them that Ruth is a Moabite. Bethlehem was a small town, and they have seen how Ruth has shown love to Naomi in caring for her. Ruth has become one of them.

And so Ruth bears a son who is named Obed. Naomi now has a grandson, and the women of the town proclaim that Ruth has acted better towards Naomi than seven sons—high praise indeed. Naomi has gone from emptiness in the beginning of the story to fullness; Bethlehem, the “house of bread,” has become full for her once more. And, as we see from the genealogy at the end of the story, Ruth, a Moabite, a foreigner, has become the great-grandmother of David, who will become the king of a united Israel. And, in the first chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we read that Ruth the Moabite is not only an ancestor of David, but also of Jesus, the Savior of the world.

This summer, the texts we have journeyed through together thus far have been about love. We started out with the Ten Commandments, which give us detailed instructions on how we are to love God and to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. We then went on to 1 John, which talked about how Jesus has come in the flesh, and how anyone who denies the fleshly, bodily, aspect of our faith is an antichrist, and finally talks about how we cannot love God and yet hate our brothers and sisters. We are commanded, 1 John tells us, to love our brothers and sisters whom we can see before we can love God, whom we cannot see. Ruth, then, gives us the story of what that love in action looks like. Ruth showed love to Naomi by giving up her own family and her own country to come back to Bethlehem with Naomi. She also showed love to Naomi by going out to glean in the fields at the harvest time and bringing grain back for Naomi to eat. Boaz showed love to Ruth by making sure the harvesters left enough grain for her to glean. Ruth showed love to Boaz by proposing marriage to him, rather than going after the younger men. And Boaz showed love to Ruth by following through on his promises, marrying her, and giving her and Naomi his protection. This story gives us an example of what love in action in the ordinary, everyday lives of ordinary, everyday people in ancient Israel looked like.

But this story also gives us an example of love that goes beyond the letter of the law. The law said that, once her husband died, and since she had no children, Ruth owed nothing to her mother-in-law, Naomi. And yet, Ruth could not leave Naomi to travel the dangerous road to Bethlehem alone. And once they arrived in Bethlehem, Ruth could not let Naomi starve, and so she went to glean in the fields for grain. The law said that all Boaz had to do was to leave the corners of his field unharvested, so that the poor could come and pick up the grain and be fed. And yet Boaz goes beyond the letter of the law, showing love by sharing a meal with Ruth, by protecting her from those who might harm her, and by instructing the reapers to pull handfuls of grain out of the bundles for her. On that fateful night on the threshing floor, all Ruth had to do was wait for Boaz to tell her what came next, but instead, she proposed marriage to him, surprising him by her love and faithfulness towards him. And when the law said that there was another go’el that should have redeemed the property and taken care of the women, Boaz skillfully manipulated circumstances so that it was he who took Ruth as his wife, following through on his promise to Ruth and taking her and Naomi under his protection. The Hebrew language has a name for this kind of love, and that is hesed, which is translated in various places in the Bible as “loving-kindness; covenant love; loyalty; devotion”. It’s one of those words that doesn’t have a good English equivalent.

And hesed is the kind of love that God shows us. God loves us so much that we simply cannot understand the depths of that love. Like Ruth did for Naomi, God does not leave us when we are grieving, but God walks with us in our grief, provides for us, and sees us through until we have hope once more. When our lives are empty, God fills them with God’s love for us through Jesus. Like the people in the story of Ruth, God goes beyond the letter of the law in order to show us that hesed, that love that will not let us go, no matter what.

When God has showed such lovingkindness for us, how can we help but show that lovingkindness for one another, and for each person we encounter in our daily lives? It really doesn’t take much, and I’ve seen it already in things that have happened in these congregations. I’ve seen it when one person checks up on another member of the congregation who is living alone, even when there is no blood relation between the two. I’ve seen God’s lovingkindness acted out for me when I have injured myself—two summers in a row!—and people have brought meals over for me, run to the grocery store for me, and walked the dog for me. I’ve seen God’s lovingkindness in the generosity of people to strangers who come to the church door in need, and the welcome given to those people in this space. We are good at caring for one another, and we are good at welcoming people to come and experience God’s love for them in these places.

The challenge for us, I think, and I’m including myself in this as well, is to love those who are different from us, and, as Jesus commanded us, to love our enemies. Ruth’s story illustrates how Ruth loves Naomi in spite of the fact that one is Moabite and the other Israelite, as well as how Boaz loves Ruth despite the same difference in nationality. If you remember from the beginning of the story, these are not people groups who got along with one another really well. And yet, through personal relationships, they got to know one another better and they overcame any animosity they had as they loved one another. I think that this is the key for us today. We look at the news and we see how huge the problems are. We see the hatred and the fear as we try to keep others at a distance. But if we each took the step of meeting one person from a group that is usually thought of as an enemy and got to know that person, and to form a friendship with that person, we could change the world in small ways. And each one of us taking that step would add up to a lot of us. Perhaps that is one way God’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven: when ordinary people showing God’s love to one another in small, ordinary ways, adds up to a large thing, and then we look around and suddenly see how large that kingdom is.

I saw something on Facebook last week that said this: “When people talk about traveling to the past, they worry about radically changing the present by doing something small, but barely anyone in the present really thinks they can radically change the future by doing something small.” Through Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, God changed the future through their small, but radical acts of lovingkindness towards one another. Naomi’s future changed from one of emptiness to fullness simply by the birth of Ruth and Boaz’s son. And the future of the Jewish people changed, for Ruth’s great-grandson, David, would become king of Israel. And the future of the world would change, for much further down the family tree, Jesus would be born and would become the Savior of the world. All because of acts of lovingkindness shown to one another. So let’s look for ways to show God’s lovingkindness to one another, even if those ways seem small. Not only because we have faith in God, but because we have faith that through us, God can change the future, and bring God’s kingdom to earth. Amen.

 

Sermon for Pentecost 11 Narrative

Ruth 3

Before I talk about today’s reading from Ruth, I want to do a brief review of the story thus far. In the first chapter of Ruth, we see a family from Bethlehem in Judah, Naomi, Elimelech, and their two sons, leaving Bethlehem to go to Moab because of a famine. In Moab, Elimelech and the two sons die, leaving Naomi with her two Moabite daughters-in-law. Naomi decides to return to Bethlehem and urges her daughters-in-law to return to their homes. One of those daughters-in-law, Orpah, decides to go back to her family in Moab, while the other one, Ruth, refuses to leave Naomi’s side and goes back with her to Bethlehem. Last week, we heard how Ruth came to glean in the fields of a man named Boaz, who was related to Naomi’s husband Elimelech, and we heard of the kindness that Boaz showed Ruth. Even though Ruth was a foreigner, Boaz invited her to share a meal with him and instructed his reapers to make sure she had enough grain to pick up and bring back to her mother-in-law. And when Naomi sees how much Ruth has gathered and hears about the kindness Boaz has shown to Ruth, she praises God. Hope has come back into her life once more.

And now we come to the climactic moment in the story of Ruth, and I think that this scene sounds strange to our ears today, so we need to have some background information on what is going on here. The first question that we need to ask is why Naomi tells Ruth to go down to the threshing floor to meet with Boaz. And part of the answer is simply that the harvest has ended and Ruth will no longer be able to depend on gleaning barley and wheat to feed herself and Naomi, meaning that these two women remain poor and insecure, without an income and without food. But why Boaz? Here’s the interesting part: in Hebrew, Boaz is known as a go’el, which means that his role in the family clan was to recover property which any part of the family has lost, especially through poverty, war, or death. This may also include the custom of levirate marriage, where, when one man of the family dies and leaves a widow with no children, the brother of that man “marries” the widow, and the first child that they have together is counted as the descendant of the man who died. In this way, the go’el makes sure that the family property stays in the family and the family lineage continues, as well as offering some protection for the widow. So Naomi suggests that Ruth go to Boaz because he is the go’el, and although Boaz has showed kindness to Ruth, he has not offered to act as go’el, So Naomi is going to have Ruth force the matter upon him, because the two women need to find some permanent protection.

Now, here’s the other part to this story. The threshing floor is a risky place for a woman to go. It is the domain of men, and men who are celebrating as they are threshing the grain. This is probably a very good harvest after years of famine, and so they have every reason to celebrate. And when men get drunk, they often do things they will regret in the morning. Any woman who shows her face publicly at the threshing floor while the men are there is most likely a prostitute. This is why Naomi tells Ruth to wait until Boaz has finished eating and drinking and has gone to sleep before going to lie beside him. Also, Naomi tells Ruth to uncover Boaz’s “feet”. The word for “feet” in Hebrew can be a euphemism for male genitals, and so we are not exactly sure, in this story, which “feet” Ruth uncovers. With this background information, we can see that this chapter of the story of Ruth is loaded with sexual innuendo, but we’re not actually sure if anything happened between Boaz and Ruth that night. I would say probably not, because we hear Boaz tell Ruth that there is another go’el in the family who is more closely related to Naomi than he is, and it sounds like Boaz doesn’t want to take what doesn’t belong to him. But, as with other things in this story, there is no way to know for sure what really did happen on the threshing floor that night.

So, even though this background information hopefully brings greater understanding of this scene for us, we don’t want to miss the important message that Ruth and Boaz bring to us. Notice that Ruth proposes marriage to Boaz, and from Boaz’s answer to her, we can see that it was probably the last thing he was expecting from her. He blesses Ruth and says that she has not gone after the younger men, whether poor or rich. We can infer from this that Boaz was an older man, and yet, Ruth saw value in him despite his age. Yes, she was following Naomi’s instructions in going to the threshing floor, but if you notice, Naomi never told Ruth to propose to Boaz; she simply told her to wait for him to tell her what to do. The fact that Ruth does not object to Naomi’s instructions, and then takes the initiative in proposing marriage, tells us that she saw Boaz as a kind man who would be a good husband and not simply as a go’el that could save her and Naomi from poverty. On Boaz’s side, he is impressed with Ruth’s loyalty to her mother-in-law and her mother-in-law’s family. He knows that she is a worthy woman, and he is concerned for her reputation, sending her back home before anyone else on the threshing floor knows that she is there. He sees her as a human being and treats her with respect, even though she is a foreigner, and next week we will find out how Boaz settles the matter between himself and Ruth—which he will do quickly.

“Who are you?” Boaz asks Ruth when he discovers her next to him in the middle of the night. It’s a question that we can ask of ourselves as well. Do we see ourselves as human beings, created by God, of infinite worth to God simply because we are who God created us to be? When we look upon one another, do we see only a person who may or may not be useful to us? Or do we see another child of God, somehow bearing a part of God’s image, and worthy of love simply because God made them? And do we treat one another as worthy of respect, honor, and love regardless of whether the person is Christian or Muslim, straight or gay, black or white or Hispanic?

This, I think, also goes back to the sermon that Deacon David Hope-Tringali preached last week, where he talked about how Ruth was a foreign immigrant, and how Boaz helped her, made sure she had enough grain to bring back to Naomi, and protected her from being bothered by the younger men. Boaz did this even though he was an Israelite and Ruth was a Moabite. He looked beyond the labels and saw a child of God in need of help that he was able to give, and he assisted her. David spoke to us very powerfully last week about how we may call ourselves Christians, but when it comes to the immigrants coming into our country through the southern border, we are not acting like Christians. Rather than seeing immigrants as people, children of God, created in God’s image, who are fleeing unimaginable violence in their home countries, there are some in our government who are calling these people “animals”; something less than human. This is not how Christians behave.

Ruth and Boaz show us how, through relationships, we can come to see one another as human beings, no matter how different we are. Some English versions of the story of Ruth translate the Hebrew word go’el as “kinsman-redeemer”. In other words, Boaz swears to “redeem” both Ruth and Naomi from a life of poverty, receiving them back into Elimelech’s family, even though Ruth is a foreigner and Elimelech is dead. But the interesting thing is, Ruth also redeems Boaz. Boaz thought he was being kind to Ruth. He names her “daughter” several times, and he implies that he is older. He would never have thought of the possibility that he might marry at his age, and that he might marry her. By proposing marriage to him, Ruth redeems him from his own image of who he is and gives him new hope for his own life. It is through their relationship that Ruth and Boaz truly discover who each one is, and redeem one another.

And it is through our relationship with Jesus Christ that each one of us knows who we are. Jesus wants to know us, each one of us, intimately. And because Jesus wanted to know each one of us so well, he became one of us. He became human. He formed relationships with his disciples. He taught them who he was, he taught them who God was, and he taught them who they were: God’s beloved children. And then Jesus taught them, and us, what true love is. He redeemed us—or saved us—by dying on the cross for us. And then he showed us that hope is not lost when death happens by rising from the dead on the third day, giving us the promise of life together with him eternally. Jesus having this relationship with us redeems us from the things that the world tells us about ourselves and helps us to see ourselves as who we are: beloved, forgiven, children of God.

Having relationships with other people helps us also to see their humanity, that they are also beloved, forgiven children of God. This week, as you are going about your daily routine, form relationships with people who are different from you. Strike up a conversation with someone in the grocery store. Find out a little bit of who they are, especially if they are obviously different from you. See them. Know that God loves them just as much as God loves you. If you have an opportunity for a deeper conversation with someone, take that opportunity, no matter what it is that you speak of. Step away from the technology, the news reports, the media that tells you what to think, and find out who you are and who the other person is. Let God redeem that relationship with love, and be open to God changing the way you think about that person and about other people in that same group. It is often through building those relationships that we see God at work, and we can see the promise of the coming kingdom of God. Amen.