Sunday 11th December
Ruth : Advent 3
Call to worship
Hymn 273: O come, O come Emmanuel
Reading: Ruth 3: 1-18; 4: 13-17 Margaret
Hymn 281: People look east
Prayer of Dedication
Hymn 285: The angel Gabriel from heaven came
Hymn 295: Who would think that what was needed
Welcome to our reflection for 11th of December, the third week of Advent.
We are looking at different people in Jesus’ family tree, these are the people that influenced the lives of each generation of Jesus and in turn influenced the lives of Mary and Joseph who influenced Jesus.
And if you look at that family tree it is full of surprising people.
Like today’s ancestor, Ruth, Now you might think that Ruth is good character, but the story is a lot shadier than we would think.
Well we will look at that after Margaret gives us our prayer and reading for today.
I remember the first time I read Winnie the Pooh as an adult.
As a child I had read the stories and I had watched the films and it was all very sweet and nice and pleasant.
I never saw anything deep in the stories at all.
It was just a silly bear bumbling about.
As an adult I realised that each of the characters was a certain personality type and the stories were a phenomenal insight as to all the different character types we deal with every day and how we can interact with each other.
But the saddest part was when I reread the very last story.
It has the toys all at the top of a hill waiting for Christopher Robin as he is about to return home from his first day of school.
And they are all talking away as if nothing has happened.
That Christopher Robin will come back from school and be with them the way he always has.
And for the first time I saw that sad realisation that their world has changed, but they haven’t realised it yet.
Christopher Robin is growing up, and his time with them and playing with them and having adventures with them is disappearing, but they don’t realise it yet.
He will change, and they will not, and they will lose him.
There is nothing more embarrassing as your wife catching you crying and she says,
‘What books are you reading that is so emotional?’
And you say, ‘The House at Pooh corner.’
The book of Ruth is like that.
Sure it seems like a gentle romance, but it is there to sucker you. Deep down it is a deeply troubling reflection of Israel and how it had found itself far from God, and what it needed to do to return to God.
We have the main character...not Ruth, but Naomi.
Naomi represents Israel.
She is happy in her land that God has given her, married to her husband and has two boys.
Everything is great.
Then there is trouble in Israel, a famine hits the land.
She could have stuck it out in Israel, stayed with the community, worked together with them to get through the hardship.
But instead they go off somewhere else, Moab, where life is easier.
Because to them life is not about the community of faith, not that the community of faith isn’t important, it’s important,
but it is not the main thing, the main thing is about personal growth, personal improvement. We can look after others once we have looked after ourselves.
So she and her family leave the place that God has created for them
and go off to find a better future.
Like the prodigal son, who takes half his father’s inheritance and goes off to create a better life for himself.
It is that age old struggle that we all face; in the end who do we trust?
Do we trust God’s path for us, not matter how difficult it is, or do we trust our own judgement more?
We know best what is best for us.
We know best what is best for everyone else.
This is a challenge I know I face every day.
The way I live my life, the way I interact with others.
What my priorities are, how I spend my time.
Do I follow God’s path, or am I following my own, and sometimes it is hard to tell which is which.
I find it so easy to delude myself into thinking that I am doing what God wants me to do when in reality I am only listening to my own ego.
Well off go Naomi’s family to Moab to find a better life.
And from what we can tell her life improves dramatically.
They get a bit of wealth, her sons marry local girls and everything is great.
Then her husband dies, then her sons die.
And suddenly there is no one about.
The community that she deserted are no longer there to support her.
She feels that God has deserted her.
When in reality she was so busy creating a life for herself that she didn’t realise that to get that life she had to close God off, stop listening to him as that would distract her from the life she wanted.
She had learnt to be deaf from God, and she had done it so well that she could no longer hear him when he was calling to her.
Just like Israel had conditioned itself to only hear God when it wanted to.
They wanted God on tap.
When they needed him he had to be there, but when they were doing ok they didn’t want him interfering in their lives. They didn’t want God trying to discuss with them how they should spend their money, how they should spend their time, how they should treat others, how they should live their lives.
And they had drifted so far from God, that even when he was warning them of their mistakes they couldn’t hear him.
Naomi and Ruth think that if they can get back to the community then maybe some of them will help them. Maybe their life will be secure.
What Naomi fails to see is that it is not about security, it is about faith, that no matter what we are facing God is with us.
That is a challenge to those in exile in Babylon that felt that if only the people could get back to Israel then everything would be OK, but it wasn’t.
And to be honest it has been a challenge to all those churches round the world that thought that once COVID passed that once we got the people back to church then everything would be ok.
And trust me it isn’t.
And maybe, it is because like Ruth what we were hoping for was security, when what God was wanting form us was trust.
Trust that it didn’t matter what we were facing, it was our relationship with Him, our relationship with His community that was the thing we should be working on.
And that moment happens in our reading today...
Naomi and Ruth have been doing ok because they arrive back in Bethlehem at the time of harvest, and during that time they can legally glean barley from the side of the fields. But the harvest is nearly finished and winter is coming. If they don’t get a regular stock of food they will starve to death.
Naomi realises that Boaz, a wealthy farmer is a relative of her family and could take over responsibility for their care.
So she sends out Ruth to wait till Boaz falls asleep drunk and she sleeps at his feet.
That isn’t an innocent act.
If you want an equivalent, a long time ago one of my friends was training for the ministry. And this woman called to him and said she was really down and could he visit her. So off he went to her house to visit, and she came to the door completely naked and invited him in.
That was what Ruth was being asked to do by her mother in law.
And in that moment Ruth was completely vulnerable.
No one knew that she was there.
She did not know how Boaz would react.
He could have taken advantage of her, raped her and then sent her home.
He was a respected member of the community, someone who the community depended on for employment, she was a foreigner.
Who would the community believe?
Boaz could have condemned her for trying to put him in a scandalous situation.
Trying to trick him into believing that when he was drunk he had sex with her and now he had to marry her. I am sure that was what Naomi was hoping for, to trick Boaz into marrying Ruth so that they would be secure. If that had worked then there would not have been a happy marriage. It would have been a marriage full of suspicion and mistrust.
But this story is about how God works, and at this moment Boaz represents God, and as God he doesn’t care about the motives of those who are returning to him.
Instead he shows compassion and love.
He doesn’t take advantage of her, he doesn’t condemn her, he cares for her.
He invites her into a relationship of trust.
And to those early readers, returning from exile, God invites them to do the same.
No matter why they had returned, God invites them into a relationship of trust.
He knows that there others that have a greater call on us; money, fame, security, family, power, influence.
But in the end they will not give what God offers, and when they are put up against each other the other things don’t stand, they fade away.
Recently I was working on the Cochrane’s carol service, and as I was working on it I was aware that this time last year we were still working under COVID restrictions.
Life was tough and hard and many were struggling.
And the hope was that once we got back to normal then things would be better, more stable, more peaceful, less frantic, less unpredictable.
But that hasn’t happened.
A war in Europe, huge inflation, political instability.
And often in our families things haven’t been as easy as we would like.
Many families became unstable with all the stresses that they have been under, many folk suffering from illnesses that weren’t caught under COVID restrictions.
And maybe we come here today to find some stability, some security.
God doesn’t offer that.
He didn’t offer Ruth that, he didn’t offer the people in exile that, and he doesn’t offer us that.
Instead God offered them...offers us, a relationship of trust, that in the good times and the bad and everything in between that he will be with us.
Not to condemn, not to take advantage of us, but to care for and help us be so much better in community than we could ever be on our own.
It is just a matter of whether we are willing to trust him or not.
Let us pray
Sometimes we look at the lists of ancestors and it seems so fragile.
If the harvest had not failed and Naomi and her boys had stayed at home…
If the doctors in Moab had been able to help and one of those men had got better…
If Ruth had decided to stay at home rather than go off with Naomi…
If Boaz had said ‘No’ when Ruth made her bold proposal…
If just one of the links in the chain had been broken, then Jesus might never have been born, or at least not in the right place at the right time.
But then all it really needed then, and all it really needs now, is trust.
Trust that you are there for us,
trust that you care enough to never give up on us,
trust that we can rely that our lives are safe in your hands.
Gracious, life-giving, risk-taking God,
as you have thrown in your lot with us so may we put our trust unreservedly in you,
and find in the trusting that you are true.