This sermon was given by Reverend Jason Carle, Pastor of Overland Park Presbyterian Church in Overland Park, Kansas on August 26, 2018.
The following is a transcript of the scripture lesson and sermon.
Scripture Lesson: Ruth 4
No sooner had Boaz gone up to the gate and sat down there than the next-of-kin of whom Boaz had spoken, came passing by. So Boaz said, “Come over, friend; sit down here.” And he went over and sat down. Then Boaz took ten men of the elders of the city, and said, “Sit down here”; so they sat down. He then said to the next-of-kin, “Naomi, who has come back from the country of Moab, is selling the parcel of land that belonged to our kinsman Elimelech. So I thought I would tell you of it, 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 will not, tell me, so that I may know; for there is no one prior to you to redeem it, and I come after you.” So he said, “I will redeem it.” Then Boaz said, “The day you acquire the field from the hand of Naomi, you are also acquiring Ruth the Moabite, the widow of the dead man, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance.” At this, the next-of-kin said, “I cannot redeem it for myself without damaging my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it.”
Now this was the custom in former times in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging: to confirm a transaction, the one took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” he took off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.” Then all the people who were at the gate, along with the elders, said, “We are witnesses. May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem; and, through the children that the Lord will give you by this young woman, may your house be like the house of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.”
So we come today to the end of our reading of Ruth. And just to back up very quickly: we started this story of Ruth remembering that Ruth takes place in the time of Judges, and Judges was the time of chaos and order. There was pain, and the end of judges makes Game of Thrones look like child’s play. Read it on your own – it’s how i get my kids to read the Bible.
The other thing that we remember is that it is a time of hardship, and that Ruth and Naomi lost everything. And we’ve been looking at the story of Ruth through the lens of the quote from Walter Brueggemann–it’s in your hymnals–that says that we are called to preach insanity in the asylum that is the world. That we live in a world that is broken, that we live in a world that desperately needs sanity to reign, and yet we seem to lose it all the time.
And over the last couple of weeks we looked at the first chapter of Ruth and saw that Ruth’s devotion, the idea of being devoted to someone, is one of the ways we counter sanity in the world. In the second week we looked at Boaz’s generosity towards Ruth and Naomi and that was another way that we counter the insanity of our inquisitive nature
The third week we looked and we saw that sometimes we have to be desperate, but we also have to act with integrity. That when we look at the world the pain and injustice sometimes causes us to act desperately, but also for us to never lose our integrity; there are right ways to do things.
And so today we come to the end of our story of Ruth, and we look at this story and it is a story of redemption and restoration. It is a story in which not only are the dead restored, not only are Ruth and Naomi provided for in the house of Boaz. Not only that but then also on top of that you have the planting of the future seed which will bring order to the chaos of the time of judges – the kingship of David.
This past week as I was reflecting on these scriptures and thinking how so often it seems that world seems broken beyond repair, I saw this twitter thread that talked about what apartheid was like in the 1950s. It was a letter that was written to a man who was going to be married interracially in South Africa. He had written to the government to receive permission, not to get married–at that point of time in South Africa Church could marry whoever it wanted to–but to attend his own wedding reception. And it was denied. He was not allowed to attend his own wedding reception. This, to me, strikes at the insanity around our world–it smacks of the brokenness.
And this is not just something that happened in the 1950s; it was happening back in the time of Ruth. In the scripture text Boaz was being very clear, saying “if you acquire this land,” as he’s talking to the next of kin who have the right to purchase land, “you also acquire Ruth the Moabite,” and the Moabites were the enemies of Israel.
This kind of insanity, the ways in which in we are able to build walls throughout the world, the way that we are able to see differences and say “these differences mean that ‘never again that we too shall meet,’” this is part of the insanity that we are called to work and be against.
But there is deep hope in what we are talking about today, and there is deep hope because that brokenness does not have the last word. Ruth had to bear a son, to labor. Not having experienced it myself, I am told that it is quite painful and difficult even with medication. Labor is what we are called to work towards as we bring in god’s new creation into the world.
Regarding the system of apartheid that I referenced earlier: for a long time after the white ruling class was broken and they held democratic elections, there was a time in South Africa where everything could have gone horribly wrong. where civil war could have broken out, where mass violence, incarcerations, shootings could have happened. It could have been horrible. But a few people, the right people, stood up and said “we need truth and reconciliation.” We need to work to expose what was, not for the purpose of trying to make sure that everybody got what they deserved, but simply to bring to light and name the horrors that were, to hold some people accountable but also to recognize that violence begets violence.
In other words, that forgiveness is actually practical politics. And that, as Christians, we are called to look for a different way. These were the works not just of people who are powerful, or people who were influential like Desmond Tuttu. The entire nation had to, and continues, to have to wrestle with this.
One of the things that brought this to mind happened last summer. There was a young man out at Heartland camp who was an intern and was from South Africa, from Indian descent. When i was growing up in Mauritius, South Africa was one of the largest countries close to us, and we were watching as South Africa went through this. And I asked him how it is changed and he said, “you know, it’s hard, and there is still deep wounds, but we aren’t talking about how to kill each other anymore. And it only happens because we have conversations with people.” And he said it was hard for him to come to the United States–he was one of three people who had dark skin on staff and had to wrestle with his own fear of what he was raised in.
But he said, “thanks be to God that I am not blinded by my past, that I can see my brothers and sisters in Christ.”
This kind of work, this kind of restoration of human family and human community only happens when we take those small steps that Ruth and Naomi and Boaz took of looking at other people and saying you are not just a widow, you are not just a rich farmer, you are not just a foreigner. But when we look at people and say you are Ruth, who is chosen to be devoted. You are Naomi, who has been broken and is filled with sorrow. You are Boaz, who has the opportunity and chance to bring healing. Each one of you God is calling to. God is calling to each one of us, that you are called to be devoted, to be generous, to be loving, to be forgiving.
When we do that, when we truly embrace that reality, God does miracles. God overthrows the powerful because their powers are exposed for the nothingness that it is. We become the body of God, the body of Christ working and loving in the world.
This my friends is the good news. So go out, do it, let it imbue your whole life. Amen.