Rev. Drew Stockstill
Masterclass on Trust
November 14, 2021 Ruth 3 Rev. Drew Stockstill
I was rowing this week and I learned something about Trust. It wasn’t the rowing that taught me about trust, though I do learn a lot about trust when rowing. I like to listen to podcasts and books, or even friends’ sermons when I exercise and I was on our water rower, listening to a conversation with the business coach, Charles Feltman, and he shared his definition of trust. Feltman defines trust as, “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.”
Perhaps the greatest act of trust ever, in the history of all creation, is the trust God places in us. Think of how much we are entrusted, how much that God values that God has risked to humanity. God entrusted humanity with the care of the world God made. God entrusted Jesus, his only son to the world. And God entrusts each of us with the most precious, valuable, gift: each other. Just think, beloveds, God has made vulnerable to your actions that which God values, God’s own children. Wow! So today we’re going to look to the story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz to learn something about trust. Especially we’re going to talk about how God trusts us with what God values most in the universe…
Let us pray. Vulnerable God, you have entrusted us with so much. You have given us your word, and entrusted us with your mission of sharing that word, making real your love in the world. Help us, O God, to be worthy recipients of all you trust, and may the words of my mouth and mediations of all our hearts be trustworthy to you our rock and redeemer. Amen.
We are reading through the book of Ruth together, this lovely little gem of a story, focused on one small family in Bethlehem some 3,000 years ago. One of the things that’s so incredible about this story is how the people in it are so much like us. These are not kings, prophets, or miracle workers. Naomi and Ruth are both widows who have moved back to Bethlehem, where Naomi is from. Ruth is an immigrant. They are both in a vulnerable position. Last week we heard about harvest season in Bethlehem, the House of Bread. Ruth went to glean in the field of a well-off man named Boaz. He treated her very kindly and told her that he had heard all about her, how she was so brave to leave her parents and go with her mother-in-law Naomi to a foreign land to help take care of her. Boaz told Ruth to take whatever she needed from his field.
Boaz was very kind and generous, but by allowing Ruth to collect grain in his field he was also following Jewish law that said that farmers should not pick every little grain but should leave some behind and on the edges so that immigrants and widows, so that the poor and vulnerable could come and collect the leftovers. It was a form of charity, but it wasn’t a hand out. Ruth had to work hard, just like Boaz’s farm workers. God gave the people the law which taught the people how to care for each other. It was the law that helped the people live into the trust God places in us to care for God’s children. Trust is choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions. God trusted Boaz by making Ruth,
someone God valued, vulnerable to Boaz’s actions. And Boaz
Think about all God has entrusted to us? Here’s a big example for our nation. Right now, around the country a massive movement is underway to help refugees from Afghanistan settle in the United States. I’ve told you about the thousands living at Fort Dix. Well, in the next days and weeks some of those refugees will be resettling in the Harrisburg area. I received an email this week from the Jewish Federation of Greater Harrisburg, letting us know of the supplies being collected by Congregation Beth El to help the International Service Center resettle those arriving here. Mark Hetfield, the President of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society said, “We used to take refugees because they were Jewish. Now we take them because we’re Jewish.” Ruth shows us that from the beginning of the nation of Israel, Hebrews like Boaz, following the law of God and the law of human decency showed care for those in need regardless of their faith.
We’ve talked about the Hebrew word, hesed which is translated to something like loving kindness. This is the primary character of God and hesed is the primary expectation of God’s people. Because of hesed God knows that God can entrust us with the most vulnerable.
We heard this morning that Boaz earned Naomi’s trust and so she tells Ruth, who she loves with her whole heart, that they need to find some security for her so she sends her back to Boaz. But this plan of Naomi’s, well it relies on Boaz being trustworthy, because this plan will put Ruth’s life in his hands. That’s trust. Naomi tells Ruth to get cleaned up, put on your best cloths and go find Boaz on the threshing floor. They are in the midst of this great harvest and so Boaz will be in the process of separating the grains from the stalks. It was hard labor, but good work. It meant bread, income, prosperity. He would be tired, joyful, full of food and drink. Ruth is told to go to him at when he’s feeling happy and make herself completely vulnerable to him.
Naomi tells Ruth, “When Boaz lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” Trust is, “choosing to risk making something you value vulnerable to another person’s actions.” Trust is sending those fleeing a war-torn country to Central PA. Trust is providing plenty of fruits and vegetables in the harvest, filling grocery stores and restaurants when so many don’t have fresh produce on their dinner table. Trust is my pastor friend walking with a family whose vibrant young child’s precious life is being entrusted to hospice and the compassion of God. Trust is a church full of loving people in a community full of loneliness and despair. Trust is Ruth, waiting until Boaz has eaten and drunk and was in a contented mood, lying down at the end of a heap of grain. There is such vulnerability placed in the trust of, well, people such as us, with our insecurities, our temptations, our fears, our compassion, our graciousness, our own experiences of trusting others in the past. There is so much vulnerability and also so much power.
“Then Ruth came stealthily and uncovered his feet, and lay down. At midnight the man was startled, and turned over, and there, lying at his feet, was a woman! He said, “Who are you?” And she answered, “I am Ruth, your servant; spread your cloak over your servant, for you are
In other Bible translations, “next-of-kin” is translated as “redeemer.” Ruth believed Boaz was her redeemer, because according to law as her next-of-kin he may redeemer her by taking her as his wife, removing her from the venerable position of widow. Ruth asks Boaz to spread his cloak over her. Here in the dark of the night, in such a contented mood, with Ruth in her finest clothes laying at his feet and no one around, well he may redeemer her or he may take advantage of her. She is completely at his mercy. And she may be asking him to spread his cloak over her. And if he wanted to hear her vulnerability in that way, well he wouldn’t be the first or last to make such a deal, with one entrusting herself to another, with power and privilege.
But Boaz is a man worthy of the trust he is being given and rather than take advantage, he acts with hesed, loving kindness. For Ruth isn’t asking to be taken advantage of, she asking to be cared for. “Spread your cloak over your servant,” can also be translated as, “Spread your wings over your servant.” Remember, last week it was Boaz who taught Ruth about God under whose wings you have come for refuge. She trusts Boaz to practice what he preached. She’s asking for God to spread those wings over her, and God does, because God has trusted Boaz to take care of his precious Ruth.
Imagine, beloveds, those who have throughout history turned to people of God hoping, trusting we will be who God tells them we are? And so many do in fact experience through the church the embrace of God’s protective wings. And yet so many have also been taken advantage of. Boaz shows us God’s intent, to receive the vulnerable and to show them hesed not harm, hospitality not hostility, the welcomed embrace – hesed.
The story continues. Boaz replies, “May you be blessed by the Lord, my daughter; this last instance of [hesed] your loyalty is better than the first; you have not gone after young men, whether poor or rich. And now, my daughter, do not be afraid, I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.”
Ruth is completely vulnerable, but Boaz continues to see her strength. He treats her with dignity and respect. Rather than treating her like someone just seeking a hand out he reminds Ruth that the whole community knows that she is a worthy woman. That word worthy in Hebrew is chayil. Only here in the Bible is it translated as worthy. More often chayil is translated as strength, and 85 times in the Bible it means army. Ruth, a foreigner, a widow, laying at the feet of a wealthy old man on the threshing floor at the dead of night, and this man sees not a weak, vulnerable, young lady; Boaz sees the strength of an army in Ruth – her courage, bravery – and he treats her as such, he tells her so.
I keep asking myself what this lovely little story of intimacy is doing in the middle of the Old Testament surrounded by battles and kings, and prophets, and all that, and I think it has something to do with the fact that for most of us today God isn’t found most of all in those people of power and dramatic prophecy; mostly we see the character of God in the Boaz’s and Ruth’s of the world. We see God working in and through regular people in day-to-day acts of hesed, the loving kindness you are asked to show your neighbor, your fellow disciple. Ruth comes to Boaz seeking the protection of one who trusts in God. And Boaz sees in Ruth’s actions the strength of a whole army. And that is what God sees in those we are sent to care for, and what God sees in you. Who would know what is within you more than God who created you with the strength of an army and the tenderness of an old farmer and a young immigrant. Ruth and Boaz have a place here in the Bible because they teach us about trust and teach us how God expects us, God’s people, to respond. God sends us people in all their vulnerability, because God trusts us to be like God, to see in vulnerability, not weakness but power, to see in the refugee not only fear but courage.
Boaz invites Ruth to stay the night. “So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before one person could recognize another; for he said, “It must not be known that a woman came to the threshing floor.”Then he said, “Bring the cloak you are wearing and hold it out.” So she held it, and he measured out six measures of barley, and put it on her back; then he went into the city. She came to her mother- done for her, saying, “He gave me these six measures of barley, for he said, ‘Do not go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.’” She replied, “Wait, my daughter, until you learn how the matter turns out, for the man will not rest, but will settle the matter today.”
And so it is, beloveds, that God has shown us not only what it is to live hesed, loving kindness and faithfulness, but God has shown us what it is to trust. For in so many ways, big and small, we are given opportunities to trust each other, and to trust God. And we are given God’s trust by the many, many instances we have to show God’s love: to our children, our neighbor, our parents, our spouse, our fellow congregant, the immigrant, the housing insecure, and the vulnerable. May we see some small of what God sees in them, the strength of an army, which is to say, their worth.