First Congregational Church
December 4, 2016
2nd Sunday in Advent and Communion Sunday
“God’s Peace Provision”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
For those who weren’t able to be with us last week, during this Advent season, we’re taking a look into the Old Testament book of Ruth. It may not seem like a logical book for an Advent series, but then, sending a human baby as a savior for the world doesn’t seem all that logical, either. The logic, however, lies between Jesus and Ruth - in the town of Bethlehem and her lineage.
In the first chapter of Ruth, we get the background story of Naomi, husband Elimilech and their two sons living blissfully in the town of Bethlehem, until there was a famine. So they leave for Moab, 7-10 days away over hill and dale. Things go well at first, the boys finding Moabite wives, but then Elimilech and the sons die, leaving all three women alone and vulnerable. Naomi tells her daughters-in-law to go back to their families and find new husbands. One daughter-in-law, Orpah, does just that. The other daughter-in-law, Ruth, makes her famous pledge to stay with Naomi, that Naomi’s people will be her people and her God will be Ruth’s God.
The first chapter of Ruth is one of hope shining in the darkness, of God’s faithfulness and nearness, and that God’s ways are not our ways. So today, we continue the story with the second chapter. And by the way, just in case anyone has forgotten, and ephah is equal to a bushel.
1 Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.” Naomi said to her, “Go ahead, my daughter.” 3 So she went out, entered a field and began to glean behind the harvesters. As it turned out, she was working in a field belonging to Boaz, who was from the clan of Elimelek. 4 Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!” “The Lord bless you!” they answered.
5 Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?” 6 The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi. 7 She said, ‘Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the harvesters.’ She came into the field and has remained here from morning till now, except for a short rest in the shelter.” 8 So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.” 10 At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
11 Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before. 12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.” 13 “May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.” 14 At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come over here. Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar.”
When she sat down with the harvesters, he offered her some roasted grain. She ate all she wanted and had some left over. 15 As she got up to glean, Boaz gave orders to his men, “Let her gather among the sheaves and don’t reprimand her. 16 Even pull out some stalks for her from the bundles and leave them for her to pick up, and don’t rebuke her.”
17 So Ruth gleaned in the field until evening. Then she threshed the barley she had gathered, and it amounted to about an ephah. 18 She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough. 19 Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!” Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.
20 “The Lord bless him!” Naomi said to her daughter-in-law. “He has not stopped showing his kindness to the living and the dead.” She added, “That man is our close relative; he is one of our guardian-redeemers.” 21 Then Ruth the Moabite said, “He even said to me, ‘Stay with my workers until they finish harvesting all my grain.’” 22 Naomi said to Ruth her daughter-in-law, “It will be good for you, my daughter, to go with the women who work for him, because in someone else’s field you might be harmed.” 23 So Ruth stayed close to the women of Boaz to glean until the barley and wheat harvests were finished. And she lived with her mother-in-law.
Thank you, Judy. If we didn’t know any more of the story, this would be a delightful tale of a good man caring about good people. There is an element of the Golden Rule in it - do to others as you would have them to do you. And maybe we might even read in this chapter - the beginning of a courtship. But there are other pertinent aspects to this story and our lives today.
Some days are better than others, but sometimes the state of our world seems anything but peaceful, and yet, some goofy ministers insist on singing “Let There Be Peace on Earth” at the end of worship services in Advent. But even when there is seeming chaos and darkness, God provides us with peace, God’s way.
In this story, a commonly raised symbolism is between Boaz and God. Boaz may reflect God, in providing for the needs of two, vulnerable women, as God often provides for our needs. I love that Ruth has to go out to glean the grain, because while God may provide, we are expected to do our part and God will do God’s part. Sometimes when we want peace to come, we expect God to back up the peace dump truck in our driveway. But have we done our part of the work for it? Have we prayed for it? Have we done what we can to make rough places plain?
In this story, there is a provision for peace in the gathering of the grain, that will be made into bread, not so unlike the bread we will soon eat, that represents Christ’s sacrifice for us, that we might know God and live with God in ways not known to the people from our passage.
Boaz gives the invitation to drink from the water jars. Ironically, he even uses the words, “Have some bread and dip it in the wine vinegar,” as we will soon have some bread ourselves, to be dipped into the wine juice. In such simple elements as food and drink, we are reminded that God is in the business of nourishing our souls as much as our bodies. Through this meal, God provides a peace that can be difficult to verbalize. But we know that peace when we experience it.
God also provides peace for us in the people that go before us, however unlikely they may seem. Whether they be people of influence, like Boaz, or the nameless ones like his workers, there are people that go before us to prepare the way, just as our faith ancestors prepared for us nigh unto 150 years ago. John the Baptist came to prepare for Jesus, and we come to prepare for Jimmy, Freddie, Robbie, Laurel, Mason, Judson, Addison, Owen, and all the others who will come after us. We may not know how all that will pan out, but there is a peace in that good people will continue to care for others and that we all have a share in the spreading of that goodness. As we prepare our hearts and minds for the peace that can come in the Lord’s Supper, let us do so in the silence of laying down burdens or worries, repenting if there is a need to do so, opening our hearts to receive forgiveness or joy or, most especially, peace.
Let us pray. Prince of Peace and Lord of Lords, we thank you for your provisions of peace. Help us to see those provisions, especially when we are weary or troubled, hurried or preoccupied. When we are able to recognize those provisions and embrace them as the gifts you intend, hear our gratefulness, no matter how we may struggle to offer that gratitude. And thank you for your Son, who provided a way to know you and live with you, a way that not all people have been able to experience in this life. Help us to help others in understanding and embracing the gift of your Son and your love. In this season of waiting and preparation, all your people say, Amen.
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.