S-1386-21SAP/C 10/13/2013 Hymns: (O) #; (S) #; (C) #644
Texts: Ruth 1:1-19; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19
Theme: “Divine Irony!” (Ruth 1:16-17)
Question: “Do you like Romantic stories?” Armour, SD
Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed! Alleluia! The text is from the O. T. lesson: “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you” (Ruth 1:16-17).
INTRODUCTION: In Nomine Iesu.
Most beloved family of faith, what we have before us in the book of Ruth is a story of Romance, Redemption and Restoration. But I’m getting ahead of myself in telling this story. When was the last time you read the book of Ruth? It is really one of those fascinating little books in the Old Testament. While we don’t often preach on it in the Divine Service, it makes a regular appearance in our Sunday School Curriculum. We tend to remember these kinds of stories because they connect with us and could well be made into a Hallmark movie.
The section of Ruth that serves as our Old Testament text is simply the introduction. But there is so much more to the story. In fact, if it has been a while since you have read Ruth, I would invite you to regard this as a bit of a homework assignment. Now, there won’t be any tests, but I can promise that you will indeed learn a great deal from these wonderful words that flow from the Holy Spirit through the writer, down through the ages to us. In the process of reading this you will run into people by the Hebrew name of Ruth and Naomi, Elimelech and Boaz. The story is one of tragedy and triumph, death and deliverance, hopelessness and restoration! But this is no simple movie plot. In this story we see the divine plan of Yahweh working salvation for the world in the minutest details. The drama that plays out is not just about women lost in a patriarchic society, but about humanity being lost as well. And the delivery from that lost state comes in the most ironic of ways. Ruth is really nothing more than a story of divine irony.
This story is awash in irony, that is, a contradiction of what SHOULD be happening. Even in these few verses we see the irony playing out. The story is set in the time of the Judges. This is a time of hot and cold relationship between Yahweh and His people. In fact, twice in the book of Judges we hear the phrase “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” The story highlights yet another one of those cold streaks. A famine has fallen on the land. Bethlehem, which means the House of Bread, has no bread. Elimelech, which means God is my King, moves his wife and two sons OUT of the Promised Land, to Moab because they would not trust the Lord to provide bread for them. And that is where the story goes from bad to worse. While they were there, for TEN YEARS, Elimelech dies. His two sons, who had taken wives from among the Moabites, (which was forbidden under the Law), they too die. As a result, an Israelite woman is left in a foreign land, with no man to provide for her and two daughters-in-law who themselves had no husbands. In those days these women are as good as lost! They have no help, no future, no family, no home and no hope of deliverance.
It is in the midst of this hopelessness that Naomi actually does something right. She decides to go back to where she belongs to the house of her Father—God, the Eternal King. She wants to send her foreign daughters-in-law back to their pagan homes. One, named Orpah, goes home. The other, Ruth, refuses. In this refusal we see another great irony. This pagan woman, who really had no legal claim on Messiah because she is a Gentile, makes one of the greatest statements of faith of all time: Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you. Ruth, the Moabite pledges her faithfulness to a faithless Israelite family and vows to return to a land that is not her own. She claims a God she has no right to claim. And her promise is one so solemn that she would rather die than fail to keep it. There aren’t even any promises that she would find food, family, future or a place back in Bethlehem. That House of Bread could well be an empty belly for Naomi and her. PAUSE.
The rest of the story is how this divine irony plays out. As often happens, the ones in the story who have no hope and no claim of faith are the ones who “get it” and the ones who should know better miss it all together. Through the care of a wealthy man named Boaz, the irony turns. This woman with no place and no birthright actually gets redeemed! Boaz marries this woman. Not only does she become part of Bethlehem society, Ruth becomes part of the lineage of Jesus! She bears Boaz a son. His name is Obed. Obed has a son named Jesse. Jesse has a son named David, who would be king of Israel. From lost to Great Grandmother of the Great King David, and the greatest King—Jesus—the Son of David! God saves Ruth so that Ruth’s offspring can save her, us and all people!
Boaz didn’t have to marry Ruth. As you read farther in the book you see that Boaz does some remarkable things to take Ruth as his wife. He really spends money that he doesn’t have to so that he could have this wife who would carry on the lineage of his relative Elimalech. In the process Noami is cared for as well as you and me. Hidden in the story of a once-pagan woman of faith is the story of Romance, Redemption, and Restoration which leads to salvation.
What we see in this story is something that we cling to by the work of the Holy Spirit. God did not abandon Naomi and Ruth. Naomi and Ruth’s husbands had abandoned God! They were the ones who refused to look to the Lord as the King who will provide for all of their needs. They thought they knew better. They elevated their reason above the promises of God. They did what was right in their eyes, not giving two hoots and a holler about what was right in God’s eyes. While the circumstances that these women face were hard, they were the means by which the Lord delivered them!
Often we do likewise. There are so many times that we think that Bethlehem has no bread. We go looking for something better in distant lands. Now, we may not leave our homes, but we leave our God. When we start saying things like, “I can’t believe in a God who would do that,” We are leaving the God who is revealed to us in the pages of Scripture to follow a god of our own making and choosing. When we start to think that we can do whatever is right in our own eyes we leave behind the God who calls us to faithfulness to His Word only to follow the foolishness of the world that would leave our souls starving, our bodies wasting, our hearts empty and our families broken. We choose to follow our own thoughts rather that God’s. We are just as faithless and helpless and hopeless as Elimelech and his sons were. If we stay there, our end won’t be any better than theirs either.
But, in divine irony, God does not abandon His people. The very people who live faithless lives, even those who claim to be part of the Church, find that there are still people of faith in the land like Boaz. In the most undeserved way, God puts people in our lives who are people led by the Holy Spirit to trust that God will redeem, restore and deliver. These are the people who by grace through faith cling to the cross of Jesus Christ. People like these are instruments of God that are His hands and His feet, speaking His Word of life to a hopeless and hapless world. In the greatest of divine irony, God has not abandoned His people or His world. And when you are like that He has not abandoned you either. PAUSE.
The great sign of this presence is the greatest King who ever walked dusty earth—Jesus. But He is more than just a presence. Ironically, He is the One who has come to redeem, restore and deliver those who don’t really deserve to be redeemed restored and delivered. Like Boaz did for the foreigner Ruth, Jesus pays an astronomical price for people like us. We have no claim on this salvation. We have no hope of deliverance until that redemption price is paid. And that is what happens at the cross. Great David’s greater Son Jesus the Christ offers the price of His sinless life to redeem us from sin, death and the power of the devil. The cross is the currency and the empty tomb the receipt.
With this redemption price paid, we too are part of the family of the redeemed. We, because of sin, were once not the people of God, now by grace are the people of God. We, because of sin, once had no food, family; future and King, now by grace have an eternal Promised Land reserved for us. And we won’t be scrambling for provision like Ruth and Naomi did. No, in this new Promised Land we will have a place at the table. We will feast on the greatest fare, like we will today in the Lord’s Supper. The Lamb of God, Jesus will be both host and feast; servant and Priest! We won’t be foreigners. We won’t be strangers. We will be family! This family will have the Lord as its head and King.
Most beloved family of faith, this is no Hallmark movie Script for a good story. It is the plot, not only of the book of Ruth, but of the entire Scriptures. In this story, which in reality is HIS-STORY; the story of salvation is revealed. By the grace of God, we who were strangers and foreigners have been brought back to Bethlehem and in this place, we are privileged to hear how WE are redeemed, restored and delivered. And like our adopted sister in the faith Ruth, we can utter that same statement of faith. “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.” Ruth’s story is our story. Ruth’s salvation is our salvation. This is YOUR story-in the Divine Irony. AMEN.