A sermon on Ruth 3 & 4 by Rev Richard Keith on Sunday 28 June 2020

You can access the audio here https://app.box.com/s/e1tt8vzhemsiih0mtioc3cl8rivnc0ex

Read Ruth 3

An American farmer was once showing off to an Australian friend. “Listen, mate,” the American said, “I once had a bull that serviced 99 cows in one day personally and dropped dead on number 100 so we killed it and had enough meat for a BBQ for 200 guests.”

“I know what you mean,” said his Aussie friend, “I once had a bull like that.”

Not to be put off the American said, “You know, I once had a tractor that pulled our homestead up a hill so the wife could have a better view from the bedroom window.”

“Know what you mean,” said the Australian, “I once had a tractor like that.”

Not prepared to swallow his pride the American tried one last time. “I once had a ranch that took all day to drive around it in my car.”

“Let me get this straight,” said the Australian. “You had a car and it took all day to drive around your farm?”

“Too right,” said the American.

“Now I’m impressed,” said the Australian farmer. “I’ve never in my life had a car that fast.”

Despite what many city folk think, country people have a wit and a wisdom that is often overlooked. And often the most resourceful and sadly, often the most ignored, is your average country woman. Many just think of the country woman’s legendary skills with the wood stove or the knitting needles. But I know there is more to her than just that. One hundred years ago my great-grandmother, a young widow with her two teenage sons, moved the family from Donald in Victoria to buy and run a farm in Corobimilla. And these days many family farms could not survive without a country woman’s second job or full-time work on the farm.

It is this kind of resourcefulness that another country woman, named Naomi, showed more than 3000 years ago. Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth were both widows, women living alone in a man’s world. It would sound spiritual to say that all they needed was God. Naomi, however, was far too practical to believe that. She knew that what they needed to survive in a man’s world, was a man and she had a particular man in mind.

So Naomi said to Ruth, “My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you? Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been working, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go to the threshing floor. When he lies down, go and uncover his feet and lie down. Then do what he says.”

Her plan was brilliant. Audacious, yes. Brazen, I can’t deny it. Cunning, too right. But brilliant nonetheless. The threshing season, with its celebrations each evening, would ensure that Boaz was in a very good mood to hear Ruth’s proposal. While the cover of darkness would give the couple the privacy they required.  Ruth did as she was told. Boaz woke in the middle of the night to find that his toes were cold and that someone else’s weren’t.

“Who are you?” he asked into the darkness.

“I am your servant Ruth,” she replied quietly. “Spread the corner of your garment over me.” It was a standard proposal of marriage, a request for protection, and an invitation to love. “Spread the corner of your garment over me,” she said, “for you are a kinsman-redeemer.”

Naomi had decided that in this man’s world the two women needed a man. But Ruth decided that they needed something better to make all their plans complete. They needed a redeemer.

Read Ruth 4:1-12

To redeem something means to release or recover something for a price. You can redeem a  prize won in a lottery, as long as you hand over your winning ticket. You can redeem a watch you’ve left as security with a pawnbroker, by repaying the money you borrowed plus whatever interest you owe. You can redeem a hostage by paying the ransom. The person who pays the price is a redeemer. If you have the money, you can redeem it yourself. You can be your own redeemer. If you’re down on your luck, a bit short of cash, someone might decide to act on your behalf. They might choose to be your redeemer for you.

In Old Testament times there were a number of times when a person could redeem themselves out of trouble. If a man was down on his luck and a bit short of cash, he might sell his house, or a portion of land or even sell himself as a slave to raise the money he needed, maybe to repay a debt or to pay a fine or to pay a tax. But he could always redeem it back. If he sold a house, he had 12 months, one whole year, to redeem it, to come up with the money to buy it back. Otherwise, it was gone for good. If he sold a block of land that was part of his family’s inheritance, he could always redeem it. He never lost his right to buy it back. The same if he sold himself as a slave. He could always redeem himself if he came up with the cash. If he couldn’t come up with the money, it was then the duty of his closest male relative, his brother, or his uncle or his cousin, whoever was closest to redeem what was sold so it wouldn’t have to leave the family forever. That closest male relative became the redeemer. He paid the price to buy back what was lost, the house, the land, the man’s freedom. He was the kinsman redeemer.

There was one other important duty that the kinsman redeemer fulfilled, and it is spelled out in Deuteronomy chapter 25. If a man died without having any children it was the duty of the kinsman redeemer, the closest male relative, to marry the man’s widow. The man’s brother or uncle or cousin, whoever was closest was expected to marry the man’s widow. Their first child was then considered to be the son of the dead man and would inherit all his property. In this way, the line was not extinguished.

This is what Ruth had wanted when she went to Boaz. Her mother-in-law, Naomi, had wanted Ruth to go to Boaz to ask him to be her husband. He would then become their provider and their protector. But Ruth knew that they needed something more than a husband, than just any man. She knew they needed a redeemer. By becoming their kinsman redeemer, Boaz could kill three birds with the same stone. Firstly, Naomi could sell some land. Boaz would redeem it, he would buy it, and being family he would make sure that the land didn’t leave the family. Secondly, Boaz would marry Ruth. As Ruth’s dead husband’s closest male relative, he would marry Ruth and their first child would be considered Ruth’s first husband’s child, Naomi’s grandchild and heir. And thirdly, Ruth’s child would inherit Naomi’s parcel of land that she had sold. It’s a bit like having your cake and eating it too. Naomi could sell the land and spend the money and still pass it on to her grandchildren all because Boaz became her redeemer. In fact, it wasn’t Ruth who needed a redeemer. On her own, she could have done with just a husband. But Naomi needed a redeemer, to make good all that she had lost.

The plan was beautiful in its simplicity. There was only one small, teeny, weeny, itsi bits problem that was, however, big enough to be a deal breaker. Boaz wasn’t the closest male relative. There was another man who’s duty it was, who’s right it was if he wanted, to marry the beautiful Ruth and to redeem Naomi’s property. Boaz went to see him. He explained about Naomi’s position. He described the block of land it was his right to redeem. The man’s eyes lit up at the prospect. A smart real estate investment and a boost to the inheritance for his children.

“The only thing is,” said Boaz as innocently as a white pointer shark, “the only catch is that you have to marry Naomi’s foreign daughter-in-law,” meaning that any children she gives him would inherit the land and not any of his other children. The investment suddenly didn’t look as promising.

The man looked thoughtful for a moment and then said, “Look, I wish I could I could help but I can’t redeem the property. But I’ve got an idea, young Boaz,” he said, slapping him on the back, “why don’t you redeem it yourself?”

“You know what,” said Boaz, “I think I will.” And Boaz and Ruth lived happily ever after.

Read Ruth 4:13-22

With the birth of Ruth and Boaz’s first child, a child that would be considered her grandson, Naomi had to admit that life was pretty sweet. Which was a big change to how she felt when she had first turned up in Bethlehem after many years back in chapter 1. The women of Bethlehem had recognised her. “Can this be Naomi?” they had said.

But Naomi had refused to acknowledge her name.

“Don’t call me Naomi,” she told them. “Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.”

But then, as she held Ruth and Boaz’s son, the boy who would be called her grandson, the child who would carry her dead husband’s name and inherit his property, Naomi had to admit that God had sweetened her bitterness and filled her emptiness. Just as Boaz had redeemed Ruth and had brought her happiness, so God had redeemed Naomi’s life from the pit and given her a reason to live.

And the book of Ruth finishes with a reminder of just how special Ruth and Boaz were. They called their son Obed, meaning “the servant of the Lord.” Obed had a son called Jesse, a man who had a sheep property near Bethlehem and Jesse had seven sons, the youngest of which was David, a shepherd boy who became a soldier and grew up to become the second king of Israel. Because of Ruth and Boaz’s faithfulness and their great love for each other, they became the great grandparents of the man who redeemed Israel from Goliath and the rest of the Philistines.

The rest of the story is left for the New Testament to tell. Just as the book of Ruth ends with a genealogy, the book of Matthew starts with one. Matthew chapter 1 reminds us that king David became the father of Solomon. Solomon had a son, and he had a son too. All in all Matthew chapter one informs us that 28 generations after Ruth and Boaz, their great great great 23 more great grandson was a man named Joseph, who married a woman named Mary who had a son named Jesus who grew up to redeem the world from its sin.

In 1868 British forces invaded Ethiopia. For four years the king of Ethiopia had held a group of 53 Europeans hostage, 30 adults and 23 children, including some missionaries and the British ambassador. Queen Victoria wrote the king of Ethiopia a letter, pleading for him to release the prisoners. Finally, the British government ordered a full scale invasion of Ethiopia to rescue them. The invasion force included 32 000 men and 44 elephants. They ate 50 000 tons of beef and pork and drank 30 000 gallons of rum. They fought one decisive battle against the Ethiopians, with casualties of 700 dead for the Ethiopians and 2 dead for the British, released the prisoners then they all packed up and went home. Half of the hostages decided that they didn’t want to be rescued, and when they got to Cairo, left the expedition to return to Ethiopia.

The British government spent millions of pounds not to build an empire but to rescue 53 civilians. Never had so much been paid to redeem so few.

But this is what it means to redeem, to rescue someone at great cost. Boaz redeemed Ruth and Naomi out of poverty. King David redeemed Israel out of slavery to the Philistines. And the Lord Jesus Christ paid the price, the price of his own precious blood, to redeem you and me from our bondage to sin and death. Sin held us hostage. No matter how we pat ourselves on the back and tell ourselves how good we are, there’s no way that we live the life God made us to live. Many of us are prisoners of our own choices and actions. Jesus said, “Everyone who sins is a slave to sin.” Which would be unfair of him to say, if he had not given his all,     if he had not given his life to redeem us from that slavery. His blood was the ransom to set the hostages free. Jesus is the only one who can make our bitter lives sweet. Jesus is the one who fills our empty lives and gives us a reason to live. Jesus is the one who rescues us from our spiritual and moral poverty and makes us heirs to inherit a fortune.

Or as the apostle Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians chapter 6,

“You are not your own. Your lives were bought at the price. Therefore, honour God with your bodies.”

We are not our own to do whatever we want. We are our Lord’s, we belong to our redeemer, in order to do his will.

The book of Ruth is nothing other than a 3000 year old love story. A story of boy meets girl, of

boy meets untimely death so girl makes dangerous journey to her in-laws country, works in a stranger’s farm, who turns out to be a relative of her dead husband, who falls in love with girl, tricks rival into giving up his claim, marries girl and redeems the day. And they all lived happily ever after.

But it is also true that before Boaz loved her, God loved Ruth. Creating for her a redeemer and through her bringing the one who redeems us all, her great great great many great grandson Jesus, into the world. It’s a reminder that before you loved him, God loved you. And that Jesus paid the price to set you free from sin. And if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.

You are not your own. You were bought with a price. Honour God with your body. Honour God with your mind. Honour God with your hands. Honour God with your heart. He can fill your emptiness and sweeten your bitterness. Honour him with your all, with your best and with all the rest. For he is your kinsman redeemer.