1 Ruth 2 Sermon: The Risk of Love Preached: December 7, 2008 am communion service Woodlawn INTRODUCTION The recent movie Sweet Land, is set in Minnesota farmland in the year 1920.1 It is set within a community of Norwegian Lutheran farmers. In this community, there is a quiet, hard-working single farmer named Olaf. He sends word back to Norway that he needs a wife. Months later, a young woman steps off a train in the open fields of Minnesota. Her name is Inge. She knows no one. She knows very little English except "I'm as hungry as a horse." Olaf meets Inge. But there is a problem. Inge is not Norwegian. She is German. And this being only a few years after the end of World War 1, no one trusted Germans. In spite of this, Olaf and Inge go to the local Lutheran pastor to be married. Once the pastor finds out Inge is German, the first thing he says is, "This is not good." He then proceeds to give Olaf a lecture – okay, sermon. He says: "We Norwegians have a common language A common background A common culture. She is not one of us." The Pastor refuses to marry them. To complicate things further, Inge does not have her paperwork in order. Olaf then tries to help Inge get her paper work in order, but no one will help. "Germans are a bad influence, don't you know." "Their corruption will creep into the community and cause moral decay." When people refer to Inge, they never call her by name. She is simply referred to as The German. What is Inge to do? Inge is all alone in this big, strange country, not even able to speak English. 1 "Sweet Land" a 2005 independent film by director Ali Selim, starring Elizabeth Reaser as Inge and Tim Guinee as Olaf. 2 And Olaf, what is he to do? For the sake of community peace, does he abandon Inge? Or does he risk being shunned by the community to stand with her? To know the answer, I suggest watching the movie – I don't think you will be disappointed. RUTH, THE MOABITE To be a foreigner, to be an outsider, to be seen as someone who does not belong, is never an easy thing. What is Boaz's first question? "To whom does this young woman belong?" To whom? Everyone in that tightly-knit community of Bethlehem belonged to someone: to some family, some clan, some tribe. The answer Boaz receives is that this young woman is a Moabite. She's with Naomi. In case Boaz didn't catch it the first time, it is repeated – she's from the country of Moab. Israel and Moab had a tense and rocky relationship. While Israel was travelling through the desert, Moab didn't let them pass through. They refused to give them food. They refused to give them water. Balak, the King of Moab, tried to put a curse on the Israelites. And perhaps worst of all, the women of Moab seduced the men of Israel, causing an Israelite rebellion in Numbers 25. Things were so bad between Moab and Israel that in Deuteronomy 23, just before Israel enters the Promised Land, the Israelites are told that no Moabite is to be allowed to join Israel – not even to the 10th generation. On top of that, you were not supposed to help Moabites. That is why, when Ruth ventured out into the fields that morning, she attracted stares and whispers. she was simply referred to as the Moabite. RUTH , THE WOMAN ALONE IN THE FIELD Perhaps you are beginning to see how much courage it took for Ruth to go out into the fields. 3 I should say something else. You may be picturing Bethlehem as a quiet, peaceful village not so different from a Minnesota farm town in 1920 where all the women were strong all the men were good looking and all the children were above average. That would not be an accurate picture. We know the story of Ruth takes place during the time of the Judges. If you know the book of Judges, you know that it was a time when things were notoriously chaotic and lawless. People did whatever was right in their own eyes. The end of the book of Judges is particularly brutal. Women were used and abused. It is a woman from Bethlehem who is brutally violated and murdered at the end of the book of Judges. There is a reason, a good reason, Boaz very pointedly says to Ruth: "Do not leave my field. Follow closely to my servant girls. And by the way, know that I've ordered my own young working men not to lay a hand on you." A young, foreign woman out in a field alone, seemingly belonging to no one, was about as vulnerable as you could get. By the end of the chapter, even Naomi acknowledges the danger. She too warns Ruth: "Stay close to Boaz's gleaners, because in another field you might be harmed, harassed, or worse." RISK OF LOVE FOR RUTH So why does Ruth do it? Why does she venture out into the barley fields of Bethlehem all alone, risking at best rejection -- being told to get away, you don't belong here; and risking at worst something even more heinous? Why does Ruth do it? Well, there was a basic need. She and Naomi were hungry – probably hungry as a horse. They needed something to eat. 4 That explains why she went out into the fields. But it doesn't explain why she went out alone. I sort of think Naomi simply couldn't bring herself to do it. Naomi couldn't face the shame and pain of it all. She had left Bethlehem with a husband and two sons and a future. Now she is back, a widow, childless, with only Ruth, a foreigner, as a companion, and no food in the cupboard. Naomi cannot face the pain and shame of it. But Ruth is willing to go out and collect behind the gleaners – something only the poor were allowed to do. Ruth is willing to face the shame of her poverty and the pain of her low status. Ruth never says to her mother-in-law: "If you're hungry, you get your own food." No, she is determined to get enough food for herself and her mother. Ruth is a woman who will risk everything out of love for Naomi. She is almost reckless in her love. RECKLESSNESS OF LOVE Centuries ago in Puritan England there was a tight-fisted money-lender who was owed a lot of money by a father and his daughter. One day he came collecting. The father and daughter did not have nearly enough to cover the debt. So the pious Puritan money-lender proposed a bargain: "Allow me to marry you daughter, and the debt is paid. Refuse me, and you can rot in jail." The father and daughter were horrified. They hesitated. This did not sound like a bargain. So the pious money-lender suggested that they allow Providence to decide. He said he would put two pebbles in a bag – a white pebble and a black pebble. The daughter would draw out one of the pebbles. If she drew out the black one, she would become his wife, and the debt was paid. If she drew out the white one, she would remain with her father, and the debt was paid. And if she refused to draw, her father would to prison. The father and daughter reluctantly agreed. The money-lender bent down to pick up two pebbles. But the sharp-eyed daughter noticed he picked up two black pebbles! What could she do? 5 If she refused to draw, her father would go to jail. If she exposed the money-lenders cheating ways, he would probably get very angry, and her father would still end up in jail. The only way to free her father was to proceed. So out of love for her father she was willing to risk everything, to sacrifice everything. Nervously she reached into the bag to draw out a pebble. As she drew it out, it just so happened that she dropped it on the ground, and it was immediately lost among the many other pebbles. She gave a gasp of shock. But her father gently put his hand on her shoulder and said, "My daughter, it's okay. We'll simply take out the pebble left. Then we will know the color of the one that fell." At that moment, the money-lender realized his cheating ways had come to nothing, and the daughter realized that risking everything for her father, had, providentially, resulted in their freedom.2 CONCLUSION When Ruth ventures out into the barley fields alone early that morning, risking everything out of love for Naomi, it just so happened that she ends up in the field of Boaz. That Hebrew phrase, "it just so happened" only occurs twice in the Old Testament. It alerts us to God's providential presence behind the scenes. And Boaz just so happens to be someone who treats Ruth differently than others. Maybe it was because Boaz's mother was Rahab (according to Matthew 1), also a foreigner, so he was familiar with the cruelty of shame. But for whatever reason, He does not resent that Ruth is in his field. He doesn't call her The Moabite – instead he calls her, My Daughter, the exact same phrase Naomi uses. Boaz doesn't see Ruth's presence as a corrupting influence. Instead, he treats Ruth with more hospitality and more honor than would be expected. He stoops down to her, welcomes her 2 Story first told in Edward de Bono's book New Think; retold in Belden C. Lane's "The Spirituality and Politics of Holy Folly" Christian Century, Dec. 15, 1982. 6 offers her his protection and blessing, quenches her thirst and feeds her hunger. Eventually, he will do even more. but we shouldn't get ahead of ourselves in this story. What we see in Ruth, risking all for Naomi, and Boaz stooping down to provide for Ruth, is something of a foreshadowing…. a foreshadowing of God who in his glory, stooped to our poverty in his abundance, stooped down to our need, in his holiness, stooped down to our misery. In stooping down to us in his deep and reckless love, We see God risking all for us, as he came among us in the fields outside Bethlehem, as he came small, frail and vulnerable into our inhospitable world; as he came willing to risk our rejection willing to carry our shame and willing to bear our pain all so that our hungry hearts might be filled and so that our thirsty souls might be quenched. All so that we might live in his freedom. Love -- real love, deep love, true love -- is always a love that is willing to risk, and a love willing to stoop very very low. This is the kind of love that feeds us at this Table. This is the kind of love that changes everything.
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