What would it feel like to arrive in a place where you know next to no one, had no way to provide for yourself, and no food for your next meal? What would you do? How would you react? For many of us, this situation is hard to fathom. We may have found ourself in a new place before or without a job, but perhaps have never been quite this shaken in that which we hold dear. But that is exactly where Ruth finds herself in this mornings scripture lesson.
Last week we began our three week journey have traveling through the scriptures with Ruth. Ruth, widowed, made a vow to her mother in law, also widowed, to go where ever she goes, make her people and her God important to Ruth, and to die wherever Naomi dies. A beautiful oath in its wording, but I have to wonder how Ruth felt now that those words became actions, as she and Naomi made the harrowing journey back to Bethlehem in hopes of finding Naomi’s kinsmen to take care of them.
Ruth, hit the ground running. She knew that she and Naomi needed food to eat. There was an ancient custom called gleaning, where God commands folks working the fields and vineyards to not collect produce to the very edges. Instead, they are to leave some of what they have grown for the widow, the foreigner, the marginalized in society that had no other way of be provided for. So God made a way for them.
Ruth may not have known the exact scripture where God made this provision, but surely she had learned about the God of compassion, mercy, and justice from her years in her husband’s family. So she picked the field a kinsman, Boaz.
Boaz noticed her right away and asked who Ruth belonged to, to which he was told Naomi. Like most families, word in ancient families traveled fast. Especially of Naomi, now calling herself Mara, or bitter life. They were also probably whispering about Ruth, the foreigner, that Moabite. The one who didn’t belong, but who clung to and cared for their kinsman better then they were at the moment.
Boaz, struck with compassion, told Ruth not to glean anywhere else. To only come here to collect her grain. To glean. Here the men are told to leave more for her. Here the men are ordered away from harassing here. Boaz made a way.
This was a strange act of loving kindness indeed! While Boaz knew and was living into Leviticus 22: "'When you reap the harvest of your land, do not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. Leave them for the poor and for the foreigner residing among you. I am the LORD your God.’" - he was by no means obligated to leave her some of the best barley and wheat. In fact, Boaz goes on to tell his men to let her glean amongst the standing sheaves. In other words not whats left behind, but that which was meant to be harvested by the reapers.
Whenever I think of the story of Ruth, one of images that comes from my mind is from Sight and Sounds production of Ruth - a musical portrayal of this amazing story. When Boaz speaks of allowing Ruth to glean on these terms, others were shocked as well, yet Boaz clearly stated why he was doing what he was doing -because he had heard the good things that Ruth had done for Naomi.
Here is Ruth, her life shattered, trying to make meaning out of what had happened to her. How many of us, when faced with tragedy are people who get so caught up in the whys that we get stuck there? Ruth didn’t have time to get stuck. She was trying to protect and provide for Naomi above all.
Ruth was a person of hospitality. Often when we think of the word hospitality we think of what we have to offer. Getting out good food and setting the table nice for guests. Friends, Ruth couldn’t offer this type of hospitality because she didn’t have anything to offer beyond her pledge to be there for Naomi no matter what.
Hospitality has become a buzz word for some churches. But I think Ruth calls us to examine what is behind our hospitality. Think back to last week. When Elimelich and his family left Bethlehem to enter into a foreign country, Moab, they are dependent upon strangers hospitality from the very beginning of the story. They were dependent upon other people to offer them food, shelter, and jobs. They were dependent upon other people befriending them.
For that is what is truly at the root of all hospitality, befriending. Hospitality isn’t just inviting someone to your home once so you can check it off of a list of good deeds or offering a place to meet after church where we only catch up on the lives of those we know. No. Hospitality is pouring our very lives into strangers in hopes that they will become friends. And not just those like us, but those who are not like us at first glance.
Naomi also shows hospitality in this portion of the story. At the end of the chapter, as Ruth is sharing about the kindness of Boaz, she offers advice for her daughter in law’s safety. She is just as concerned about Ruth as Ruth is for her.
Ruth also makes us our own assumptions of fidelity. Who are the people that we stick with through all circumstances and why? Boaz recognized in Ruth a fierce fidelity to Naomi. Not because she had to, but because she chose to. In Naomi’s grief she didn’t just offer to come over once in a while. She cared for Naomi with all she was and all she had.
Recently a friend was sharing a story with me about some of her church members. One church member who was single became ill and needed surgery. Following that time of intense illness, another church member moved in for months to care for her. She cooked, cleaned, and tended to her. That is fidelity, brothers and sisters.
I also think of a friend from high school. She and her husband moved to Ohio where they are part of a loving church. As she prepared to give birth to both of her children, folks from church stocked her freezer with pre-made meals. That is fidelity.
What does fidelity look like in our church? It may not look anything like these two examples, and that is okay. But we need to ask ourselves how we are a church that embodies and lives into being there for one another, especially during difficult times.
Lastly, the story of Ruth reminds us that God sticks with us. Once again, in this chapter, God isn’t mentioned by name, but God can be witnessed at work. At work through Ruth seeking out the fields of a kinsman. At work in Boaz going above and beyond for Ruth. God works in unlikely ways and even through unlikely people, if only we open our eyes and hearts to sense God’s presence.
Friends, I would invite us to pray this week about three things: one, who has God put on our hearts to offer hospitality to? Not just kindness, but befriending for the sake of the Gospel? Two, how can be stick by one another? Recently while visiting a shut in, we prayed that as a world we learn how to encourage one another more. How can we show encouragement to one another during tough times? Lastly, let us pray that God opens us up to the presence of God. Let us pray. Amen.