Monday, July 10, 2017

Looking Ahead to July 16, 2017 -- The Conclusion of Ruth's story

This week we reach the end of our series on Ruth as we read chapter 4.

The Sermon title is Redeemed

Early Thoughts: As with any good story, in this final chapter the plot comes to a conclusion, the conflicts are resolved. Back in chapter one it was uncertain if the ending would be tragic or happy, but chapters 2 and 3 have been giving us ample clues and here we find that it is indeed a good news story.

In part this ending gives us a glimpse into a piece of Jewish custom (the business of who will redeem the land). In part this ending is a wrap-up of the story. And in part it is a launching point for the story of David (which is likely one of the reasons the text made it into the canon).

But there is something deeper too.  For the whole book we have watched Naomi as she has coped with the reality of loss. In chapter 1 she renamed herself Bitterness, even as Ruth proclaimed that she would remain faithful through all of life Naomi still found herself feeling empty. Throughout chapters 2 and 3 it has been unclear that Naomi comprehends the gift that Ruth has been -- focusing all that is good on the works of Boaz. Here, at the end, Naomi is told outright by the women of the village that Ruth is a greater gift than 7 sons. And maybe, as Naomi holds her newborn surrogate grandson she can see where the path to fullness has been all along.

Chapter 1 was about death and famine and emptiness. We have heard much about abundance throughout the rest of the book (directly in the form of grain, more symbolically in the burgeoning relationship between Ruth and Boaz). Now we are reminded that life wins, that life continues.  The land and family of Elimelech have been redeemed and restored. Life has won.

But where is God?

I have no doubt that some read the book of Ruth, get to the end, and presume that this is what God had planned all along. From the moment Elimelech took Naomi and Mahlon and Chilion to Moab God had this endpoint in view. I am not convinced God works quite that way. So where is God? Is God in the myriad acts of faithfulness and love which have pushed along the story of Ruth and Naomi and Boaz? Is God in the rules of life that created a space for Ruth and Naomi to find a life as childless widows? Is God in the healing of Naomi's empty heart?

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