Thursday, October 29, 2015

When Life Spins Out of Control - Ruth 1:1-20

Ruth 1:1-20New International Version (NIV)

In the days when the judges ruled,[a] there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah.

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.”
Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud 10 and said to her, “We will go back with you to your people.”
11 But Naomi said, “Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands?12 Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me—even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons— 13 would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!
14 At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-lawgoodbye, but Ruth clung to her.
15 “Look,” said Naomi, “your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.”
16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.
19 So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”
20 “Don’t call me Naomi,[b]” she told them. “Call me Mara,[c] because the Almighty[d] has made my life very bitter.

Joy is a part of the Christian life, and especially a part of worship.

Have you ever noticed that so much of the Bible speaks of joy?

Ps 66:  “Shout with joy to God, all the earth! Sing the glory of his name; make his praise glorious!”

Ps 100 “Shout for joy to the LORD, all the earth. Worship the LORD with gladness; come before him with joyful songs.”

“Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name.”

Or here is my favorite one, and I suppose I overuse it sometimes -- Ps 118: “This is the day the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.”

But have you ever noticed that sometimes life isn’t always ready for that sort of worship? 

Life isn’t always ready for joy.

There are those here this morning who have lost jobs, or who work at jobs that are in jeopardy. 

Retirement income has dwindled.

There are marriages that are hurting, and on the brink of being ripped apart.

For many of our high school and college students, the joy of a coming graduation is mixed with the fear of the unknown as to what happens next.

Those of you who are on vacation for the week or the weekend, are anxious about what is waiting for you when you return home.

Alcohol overwhelms one person.  Drugs overwhelm another.  Cancer has worked its way into yet another.

Life is not always upbeat and happy and joyful.

In one of Simon and Garfunkle's songs, there are these haunting words:
I don't know a soul that's not been battered,
Don't have a friend who feels at ease,
Don't know a dream that's not been shattered
Or driven to its knees.

Certainly, it is sad to know that there are so many people in our world -- in our church here at Chapel, who are hurting -- whose souls have been battered and whose dreams have been driven to their knees.

How can a person whose life seems to be hurting as in the Simon and Garfunkle song find peace and joy?

How can a life that is in a downward spiral begin to reverse that trend and begin making positive progress?

Let's take a look at the life of one such person in the Old Testament. If there is one person who fits that Simon and Garfunkle song it is Ruth. Her soul has been battered, her dreams driven to their knees. Things start out bad, and get worse.

Ruth is a small Old Testament book. It only has four chapters and it really takes just a few minutes to read it.

It starts off with chapter 1 verse 1, in which we read, "In the days when the judges ruled."

Now that happens to be a narrative phrase that is another way of saying, "In the days when we had no king."

The text continues...

"In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land," which is to say, "when there was no food..."

"...A man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

"The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.."

Now, if you have spent any time at all in the Old Testament, you will know right away that it is always important to find out the meaning of the person’s name, because the name’s meaning had great impact on the story.

Abraham – his name means “father of many nations” and his life is about just that – how he became a father of many nations.

Jacob was a manipulative person, and his name fit him well, because Jacob meant “supplanter”.  But his name is changed to Israel when his character begins to change.

Esau means”hairy” and when he was born he had a lot of hair.

So, getting back to Ruth –

"...A man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab.

"The man's name was Elimelech, his wife's name Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion.."

Those are strange names, because they mean, "weakness" and "consumption."

Now, I know some people who have given their children some strange names, but these take the cake. I can just see Father Elimelech taking the boys to town and meeting some of his friends from work, saying, "Hello Bob. I don't believe you've ever met my boys -- Weakness and Consumption.

Now, as the text continues, Elimelech and Naomi raise these two fine boys, but Elimelech dies.

Later, Weakness and Consumption, get married. One of these wives is named Ruth.

Then Naomi's husband dies, and within ten years, both of her sons, Weakness and Consumption die. And Naomi, whose name means "joy" wants to be called Mara, which means "bitter."

So at the very beginning of the book of Ruth, we find no joy in the lives of these women.

There is no king,
there is no food,
no family name without a husband,
and no sons as heirs.

Now, let me jump to the end of the book of Ruth. At the end, Ruth marries a man named Boaz. All of a sudden, this woman who had no name, has a family again.

Boaz and Ruth have a child.

The Famine comes to an end.

And the very last verses speak of how the son of Ruth was named Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David. And of course, David was the best king Israel ever had.

She went from having nothing at all, to having everything. She went from being without joy, to having absolute joy. She went from emptiness to fullness.

Do you see the literary movement here?

She went from no king, no food, no son, no name, to having a name, a son, food, and a king.

The question is, how did she do that?

That is a question we would like answered! And it is a good time to ask it.  Our whole world is in a mess.  Those who live their lives in empty sorrow thirst and hunger after the fullness of joy.

Investment portfolios go down, down, down.

Income from work or retirement planning gets smaller and smaller.

Jobs are threatened.

The only thing that is going up is the foreclosure rate.

People are sick and struggling with health issues.

Divorces are destroying marriages.

Hopelessness is spreading.

How do you go from having your life be empty to having your life filled with joy?

The way this change comes about is in chapter three. By this time, Naomi has both of her daughters in law to go out and find husbands on their own. Orpah does just that, and we never hear from her again. Ruth, however, stays by her mother in law. "Where you go, I will go," she tells her. So these two women who have nothing, no home, family or food, go out on their own.

Ruth starts going into the farms in the area and picks the crops the farmers have left behind. This was a kind of welfare system. Farmers were supposed to leave part of the crop in the field so the poor could take some. It was called "gleaning."

Ruth makes friends with a distant relative named Boaz, and Boaz takes Ruth under his protection and even orders the workers to leave a lot of extra food for Ruth and Naomi.

This is when Naomi comes up with a plan.

Naomi has had it with their lives going from bad to worse. Something has got to happen to make their lives better, so in chapter 3, verse 3, Naomi tells Ruth that Boaz is going to be working late that night on the farm, and instructs her, "Take a nice bath.  Put on some perfume.  Put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet" -- and by the way, uncovering feet is a rather delicate way in some Old Testament books to say, "have sex with him."

In other words, Naomi is telling Ruth, "We got nothing left but your good looks and feminine charm, and you'd better use them to catch a husband so we won't be left homeless." And her last word of instruction is, "You uncover his --- feet, and he will tell you what to do."

Not a very saintly attitude.

But Ruth does this. Almost.

Ruth goes to where Boaz is working and does everything Naomi told her to do, except she does not wait for Boaz to tell her what to do. Instead, Ruth tells Boaz what to do. Boaz says, "I'll do whatever you ask."

She tells Boaz, "you are my kinsman-redeemer."

In the culture of that day, Boaz had, as a distant relative, a covenant responsibility to take Ruth as his wife, and to take care of her and Naomi.

Ruth lays hold of that claim.

She takes hold of the claim to the redeemer in her life.

She doesn't try to redeem herself, or to take care of herself, she doesn't just depend on her feminine charm to trap Boaz or to manipulate him.

Instead, she looks beyond herself.

What she does is to trust in the covenant promises. She basically tells Boaz, "You are my redeemer. Act like it. Do your job. Be my redeemer."

That is the turning point in the story of Ruth.

Here is a woman who had no king, no food, no family, no name, no joy -- but whose life was reborn so that she found joy, a name, a family, food, and ultimately gave birth to the grandmother of the best king the nation of Israel would ever know.

Naomi tells Ruth to manipulate Boaz into taking care of them, but that isn't what turns their lives around.

Our life spins out of control, and what do we do?

We manipulate people around us, but that does us very little good.

It didn’t do Ruth any good.

Naomi tells Ruth to use her own resources, her feminine charms, to turn their lives around, but that isn't what helps.

Our life spins out of control, and what do we do?

We often look toward our own resources, whatever they may be, and find them insufficient.

Ruth looks to society for help, and gets onto the early welfare system of gleaning the fields, but that doesn't help.

What helps Ruth?

What helps us?

Ruth's life turns around when she looks beyond herself, toward her redeemer.

Our lives can turn around when we look beyond ourselves toward a redeemer.

There are families torn apart. There are lives in turmoil. There are people in crisis. What hope is there?

What can be the turning point of our life?

Our hope is not in the stock market. 

Our hope is not in ourselves.

Our hope beyond ourselves. 

Our hope is in Jesus Christ.

When we look at our Redeemer, Jesus Christ, our lives get back on track.

Copyright 2015. 
Dr. W. Maynard Pittendreigh
All rights reserved

Ministers may feel free to use some or all of this sermon in their own ministries as long as they do not publish in print or on the Internet without ascribing credit to the author.