Building a House for All - Ruth 4
November 21, 2021 Rev. Drew Stockstill
So, a few weeks ago I found myself wandering lost around an Atlantic City casino on a Saturday afternoon carrying around a Navy Dress uniform. I was one of the few who had come for the Marine Corps Birthday Ball who did not have a hotel room, because, unlike the young Marines and their dates, I was not going to be partying late into the night. I had to be at church the next morning. Not that I’m complaining. I was looking desperately for a place to change. I couldn’t find a helpful employee or bathroom suitable for changing into a formal uniform. I could tell there were lots of eyes on me, including Marines still in their civilian clothes, enjoying themselves before the ball, wondering what this officer is doing pacing around and sweating. I was clearly out of place.
Finally, I ducked into a clothing store and asked the clerk if I could borrow the dressing room. She
was thoroughly confused but let me use what was actually a great fitting room. As I was changing out of my jeans and sweat shirt into my dress blues, adjusting my bow tie, lining up my metals, I thought, “Boy do I feel out of place here.” There’s literally no place for me here. I bought two pairs of socks from the nice and still confused clerk to thank her for helping me out. And I found my way to the ball room as Marines decked out in their finest started to gather with their dates. This was my first day with this unit so I didn't know anyone yet.
I milled around talking to a few folks who took pity on me, there without my beautiful date. At least I was dressed appropriately, but I still felt out of place. People took their seats and the ceremony began. The emcee welcomed the 300 or so Marines and guests and then said, “Now please welcome Chaplain Stockstill, Lieutenant, US Navy for the Invocation.” And I came to the podium, asked everyone to join me in prayer and there, leading this holy moment, I finally found my place. And I’m quite certain a few wondered if this was the guy wandering around earlier clearly looking for his place.
What a relief it is to find your place, isn’t it, to know you have a place? We’ve been reading the book of Ruth together in a series called “A Place for You Here.” Because Ruth shows us how God prepares a place for Ruth in this family in Bethlehem. And we’ve noted how the fact that Ruth, Naomi and Boaz have a place in the Bible teaches us that we all have a place in the story of God. And I want you to know, there is a place for each of you here, not only in the family of God but in this church family. It’s not always easy to find our place, but I am grateful this church is committing itself to making sure people know there is a place for them here, no matter what.
We see this at work as we come to the end of the story of Ruth, today. We just heard this kind of confusing encounter between Boaz and another relative. You may remember from last week that Ruth has just asked Boaz to take her as his wife. He’s so honored and I think in love with Ruth that he wants marry her, but there are some legal issues. Ruth is a foreigner, and she is the widow of Boaz’s relative. Technically, in ancient law, Ruth would be considered part of her husband’s property and when he died all his property could be sold to his next of kin. Now, Ruth didn’t know this when she proposed to Boaz, but that next-of-kin is someone else. So, Boaz has to go and clear this up. He and the man talk about it and, Boaz asks him if he’ll buy this property from Naomi, but we don’t want him to, do we? We want Boaz to be able to marry Ruth. And to our stomach but he just calmly adds. “Oh, by the way, the man’s property includes his widow, the Moabite Ruth.” I don’t know exactly why but that changes things for the man. He says, it will mess up his inheritance so he passes on the deal. Which means Boaz is in the clear to buy the land and fulfill Ruth’s desire to marry him. Boaz trusts God and the system and the way is made clear, finally, for Ruth to have a place in this family, and in the people of God.
Now, to finalize the deal, it was customary in those days that Boaz and the other relative exchange a Birkenstock sandal. This is how the story continues: “to confirm a transaction, the one took off a sandal and gave it to the other; this was the manner of attesting in Israel.
8 So when the next-of-kin said to Boaz, “Acquire it for yourself,” he took off his sandal. 9 Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have acquired from the hand of Naomi all that belonged to Elimelech and all that belonged to Chilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabite, the wife of Mahlon, to be my wife, to maintain the dead man’s name on his inheritance, in order that the name of the dead may not be cut off from his kindred and from the gate of his native place; today you are witnesses.”
We’ve been focusing a lot in this series on the kindness, compassion, the hesed of Ruth, her strength and courage. Ruth’s character is what made Boaz fall in love with her. He told her last week as they were talking on the threshing floor, how much he valued her, how he saw in her the strength of an army. But I want to point out the peculiar strength of Boaz. Here is a man who has remained single until late in life, who falls in love but who places his desires before the law of God trusting God to work things out. Maybe you’ve heard of toxic masculinity? Well, I won’t dwell on that because today I want to lift up Boaz’s positive masculinity. Boaz demonstrates positive masculinity for any culture in any time. And it makes me wonder, what shapes a man like Boaz? Boaz is a man attuned to the feelings of Ruth. From the beginning he sees her wonderful qualities, qualities he celebrates in her. He admires her sacrifices, especially as an immigrant. He comforts her in her fear. He talks to her about God in a tender, affirming way. He is sensitive to her needs, to her dignity, and he treats her with gentle, and not patronizing respect. He supports her as she finds her own place in this new town and culture. He is not afraid to be seen as vulnerable. This is what God ordained manhood looks like. What contributed to Boaz’s positive masculinity? How did he find his place?
Perhaps Boaz is especially sensitive because of the way he was raised, and who, in particular raised him. According to the gospel of Matthew, Boaz’ mother was Rahab. We met Rahab back when we were reading Joshua. Rahab was the Canaanite woman who lived in the wall, who was a known sex worker. She harbored the Jewish spies who came to her house and she saved their lives. She is known in various places in the Bible as Rahab the prostitute, but in the Gospel of Matthew she is known as Rahab, Boaz’ momma. Boaz was raised by a woman who never escaped her past as a sex worker. He was raised by a father, Salmon, who took Rahab as his wife knowing she had a life and history before him. Rahab, like Ruth, was a non-Jewish foreigner who became a follower of God. So, Boaz grew up knowing something about women who overcome adversity, who had to work to find their place, women who have known love and hardship. Boaz grew up with a man who did not let someone’s past forever shadow their future, who was not afraid to fall in love with someone of a different culture, faith, even though the law of the time said it was not allowed. Boaz told Ruth that she was a worthy woman, that he saw in her the strength of an army. Could it be that he saw in her something he’d seen before, something that lit a fire in him, something he had been waiting for, for a long time, something he had only ever seen in his own mother, Rahab?
And Boaz is not the only honorable man in this story. The men of the community, the elders he gathered to witnesses the legal proceeding, they too show us positive masculinity. Ruth is a widow, a foreigner, and new to the faith of these people. In many communities today it would be hard for Ruth to ever truly escape her outsider status, to ever be celebrated for finding her place. In our day folks may look at Ruth moving into the neighborhood with fear that her culture would soon replace theirs’s. They may be nice to her, but they won’t be joyful about it. But in Bethlehem, they did things the right way. The leaders of Bethlehem came together to be witnesses of this interracial intercultural marriage and rather than whisper about Ruth’s past and wonder how much she really believes in
Ruth and Boaz, Rembrandt
God, talk about how it’s hard to understand her with her accent, and wonder how she’ll assimilate, these men of the city instead celebrate and bless Boaz and Ruth. They do, they say, “May the Lord make the woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel,” which is about the greatest welcome and praise they could give. They are saying they hope Ruth is not only at home in Bethlehem, they hope God uses her like the great mothers of their people, Rachel and Leah, and that Ruth will be a part of the building up of their whole nation. They are saying, not just, “Welcome, glad to have you.” They’re saying more than, “Good luck and God bless.” The people of Bethlehem are saying to this widowed immigrant, “There is a place for you here! We hope you don’t just fit it, we hope our whole nation is made great through you!” This is the make Israel great campaign: it’s the immigrant married to the son of sex worker that these folks see will make their nation great! Wow! Talk about hopeful patriotism. We do have a lot to learn from Ruth and Boaz and the whole people of Bethlehem.
What if folks around here, and folks who talk on the news and make posts on the internet, folks who say they too follow God, what if they followed the Bible and acted like the people of Bethlehem. What if our citizens looked at man like Boaz, the son of a foreign sex worker, who marries a widowed immigrant and said: you are what is great about our faith and our people. What if we valued the incredible army like strength we see in those like Ruth and Rahab who have survived great adversity. What if our nation, like Bethlehem, looked at the courage, the strength, the hopes and dreams of immigrants and saw our hope for a great future? There’s a place for you here. May God continue to bless our nation through you. You are what make America great.
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.”
Remember, Naomi returned to Bethlehem, a woman bitter from the deaths of her husband and sons. But now her daughter-in-law has found love, security, and a bubbly little boy who she can’t stop hugging and kissing. The women of Bethlehem who once shook their heads in pity now celebrate with her in joy. Naomi had thought God had abandoned her, but her friends see how God is healing her through this new life.
So there’s, Naomi, caring for her grandson, perhaps Ruth, full of love and gratitude, looking on, glowing, when the women of the neighborhood gave her son his name. “They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.” And David became the greatest king Israel ever knew.
Ruth, it’s a story of ordinary people, people who had lost, wandered, despaired, loved, hoped, worked hard, overcame poverty, showed vulnerability, welcomed strangers and foreigners. And while God doesn’t show up as a character in this story, God shows up all over the place, just like today, in the power of God working through ordinary, faithful people. God shows up through the hesed – the loving kindness and faithfulness of God – lived out in Boaz, Ruth, Naomi, and the men and women of Bethlehem. So let it be clear, beloved, God has a place in this story and God has a place in your story. Further, you have a place in God’s story and in God’s story, in God’s Kingdom, there is a place for everyone, a place that will welcome those with troubled backgrounds, those who come for different cultures, those who come from different faiths, and nations, there is a place for you here and that place is celebrated by God. Ruth attests to that. The fear and phobia being stoked in our nation today and around the world is pure and simple contrary to the testimony of God in scripture and you just have to look at Ruth’s story and Rahab’s before her to see it.
A final word about Ruth. The gospel of Matthew begins with a genealogy telling us who is related to who starting with Adam. And in the middle of this family tree, is Rahab, not listed as a prostitute but the mother of Boaz, and there in this family tree is Ruth, the grandmother of King David. And as you follow the tree on down you get to, well, you get to Jesus. God does show up in this story then after all, for in a real sense Ruth, and Rahab before her were the women who brought God into the world, the immigrant women who were Jesus Christ’s grandmothers.
We are indeed witnesses of these things beloved, for God has done it before and God will do it again, and we can only trust, there is a place for you here, and there is a place for those like Ruth here too.