August 13, 2018 by jmar198013
Manuscript of my sermon at Central Church of Christ for August 12, 2018. From our ongoing series, “Ruth: Good news for women … and everyone else.”
Our text this week was Ruth 3.
A live audio is included below for those who’d like to listen.
Why me, Lord?
Something you might not know about me is that I’m a huge fan of the country singer-songwriter Kris Kristofferson.
And something you might not know about Kris Kristofferson is that he wrote what I believe is one of the best gospel songs of the twentieth century. The song is called, Why Me, Lord?
Why me, Lord? That’s a question you usually ask when something really bad is happening to you, isn’t it? Why me, Lord? What did I do to deserve this terrible thing I’m going through?
But Kris Kristofferson took that question in the completely opposite direction. Because in his song, he asked: Why me, Lord? What have I ever done to deserve even one of the blessings I’ve known?
Let me tell you the story behind the song.
Kris Kristofferson had been a Rhodes Scholar at Oxford University. He went on to become an officer in the U.S. Army. But he left behind a job teaching English literature at West Point to move to Nashville and become a country songwriter.
And he ended up losing everything.
His son got very sick and his wife divorced him. He spent years living just inches away from skid row in a run-down apartment. Working odd jobs—like being a janitor in a recording studio. He also struggled with substance abuse.
Things went on like that for years until other musicians started scoring big hits with his songs.
Have any of you ever heard Sunday Morning Coming Down, by Johnny Cash? How about Me and Bobby McGee by Janis Joplin? Kris Kristofferson wrote both of those.
And once his songs became big radio hits, he not only had plenty of money. He also got his own record deal out of it.
Not long afterward, he gave his life to Jesus at a Nashville church a lot of country musicians attended. And that’s when he wrote that song, Why Me, Lord?
Because he saw God’s fingerprints all over his story. He knew it was only by God’s grace that he’d come through the bad times. It was God who had finally made all his struggles pay off. It was God who had turned his sorrow into joy.
And so in the second verse of the song, Kris Kristofferson prayed these words: Try me, Lord. If you think there’s a way I can ever repay all I’ve taken from you.
I’m sure he understood—as we all do—that he could never pay back everything God had blessed him with.
But I understand the impulse. When you know how kind God has been to you. When God has seen you through the worst times—you want to give back. And that’s a really good and healthy and appropriate response to God’s grace.
And at the very end of Why Me, Lord?, Kristofferson offers share his story and his testimony with other struggling people. To be a witness to all the ways God had been faithful to him—even through the bad times.
And you know what? I think that’s about right.
We can never repay God. And God doesn’t ask us to. But when God extends grace and mercy and kindness to us, he absolutely expects us to pay it forward to others.
Naomi and Boaz pay it forward
And that’s where Naomi is at the beginning of Ruth 3. She had experienced great grace from God, and she wanted to pay it forward.
Naomi had lost everything on the plains of Moab. Her husband. Her sons. As far as she was concerned, God was done with her. She had nothing left to offer.
Naomi came back home to Bethlehem with nothing but her daughter-in-law Ruth. Like Naomi, Ruth was a widow, and without children.
But then, last week we heard how Ruth went to glean in a field, so they could eat. Back then, the poor, immigrants, orphans, and widows were allowed to collect the leftovers when farmers harvested their fields.
And it just so happened that Ruth had ended up gleaning in Boaz’s field. And Boaz was a close relative of Noami’s late husband. And when Boaz saw how Ruth had left behind her home and family to come take care of Naomi, God laid it on his heart to help out, too. So he sent Ruth home to Naomi with thirty pounds of grain!
And when Naomi saw all that grain, and found out where it came from, this poor widow who thought her life was over came back to life! She knew it was God who moved Ruth to leave everything behind and return to Bethlehem with her. It was God who led Ruth to Boaz’s field. It was God who nudged Boaz to send Ruth home with all that food.
Even though it was Ruth’s hands that carried those thirty pounds of grain, Naomi saw God’s fingerprints all over it.
Psalm 91.4 tells us that God will cover you with his wings; you will be safe in his care; his faithfulness will protect and defend you.
Naomi understood that God had stayed faithful to her, even through all her sorrows. And God’s faithfulness was standing right there in front of her: Ruth, holding that thirty pound sack of grain. Every time Ruth hugged Naomi, it was God spreading his protective wings over her.
And Naomi knew she had to pay God’s faithfulness forward. And she knew how she was going to do it, too.
Naomi knew that Ruth was probably going to outlive her. And she knew from her own bitter experience how vulnerable and precarious life was for a childless widow in their culture.
Naomi knew, in that culture, that Ruth needed to be under the protective wings of a husband, who could give her sons to care for her in her old age.
And Naomi also knew just the right man.
Boaz. Her husband’s wealthy relative who’d shown them so much faithfulness and kindness.
So she told Ruth: My daughter, shouldn’t I seek security for you, so that things might go well for you?
And then Naomi told Ruth her plan. She told Ruth to take off her widow’s clothes and take a refreshing bath. Then to put on some nice perfume and a flattering dress. Because that night, Boaz would be at the threshing floor after the harvest celebration.
At harvest celebrations, people ate big meals and drank a fair amount of wine, too. Then the men would sleep outside, to guard their grain. The Lord had been good to Boaz that year. He’d had a very successful harvest.
That night, Ruth was supposed to sneak down to the threshing floor and wait for Boaz to fall asleep.
In other words, his guard would be down. He’d have a full belly. He’d be very happy over his big harvest. And he’d be half-asleep.
Here’s what Naomi told Ruth to do when she found Boaz: When he lies down … go, uncover his feet, and lie down. And he will tell you what to do.
You know, this part of Ruth used to really disturb me. Because it made me think of that old Bobbie Gentry song, “Fancy.” You might know the Reba McEntire version. It’s all about a girl whose mother gets her a red dress and some fancy perfume and sends her out to seduce wealthy men so she can escape the poverty her family is stuck in.
But that’s not what’s happening here. Naomi wasn’t throwing Ruth to the wolves. Naomi knew Boaz was an honorable and caring man. But she also knew that Ruth wasn’t what you’d call a catch in that culture. Ruth may have been young and hardworking and even gorgeous. But she also had three huge strikes against her. She was an immigrant from a questionable nation. She’d been married before. And worst of all, she hadn’t been able to give sons to her first husband.
So Naomi wanted to give Ruth a fighting chance at Boaz accepting her as a wife. But she also wanted to give Ruth a way to save face if Boaz rejected her. A meeting at night, when Boaz was full and happy, and everyone was asleep, was the best way Naomi could imagine to do it.
So Ruth went out and did as Naomi instructed.
The story says that Boaz had ate and drank, and he was in a good mood. Just like Naomi had hoped. And then he went over to lie down by the edge of the grain pile, which would have put him in an even better mood—seeing this massive pile of God’s faithfulness to him as he drifted into sleep.
And once Ruth heard him snoring, she quietly approached, uncovered his legs, and lay down.
There’s some debate over how much of Boaz Ruth exposed when she uncovered his legs. Or what exactly Naomi expected to happen between them. Perhaps the less we speculate about that, the better.
What we do know is things didn’t go down quite like Naomi expected. Instead of waking up and telling Ruth what he wanted—for her to stay the night with him, or go away—this happened. The man shuddered and turned over—and there was a woman lying at his feet. “Who are you?” he asked.
Somehow, I don’t think Boaz getting startled and asking Ruth who she was, was part of Naomi’s plan!
But Ruth was whip smart and resilient as titanium alloy. So she improvised. And I love how she answered Boaz.
She replied, “I’m Ruth your servant. Spread out your robe over your servant, because you are a redeemer.”
Okay, I need to unpack what she meant. Because sister Ruth had some sick game.
First of all, in the original language, what Ruth actually said to Boaz was spread out your wing over me. See, the Hebrew word for wing was also used for the edge of someone’s robe.
Here’s why that detail is so important. Ruth was reminding Boaz of something he said to her on the first day they met. It was actually something he prayed for her.
When Boaz found out how Ruth had left her home and family to come take care of Naomi; and he saw how hard she worked to feed them; he said: May you receive a rich reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you’ve come to seek refuge.
So do you see what Ruth did there? When she asked Boaz to spread his wing over her, she was asking him to become the answer to his own prayer. Ruth was seeking refuge under Boaz’s faithful, protective wings. She was asking Boaz to be her rich reward from God.
Just like God had demonstrated his faithfulness to Naomi through Ruth, Ruth hoped to find God’s faithfulness to her displayed through Boaz.
And then look at that last part of v9. She tells Boaz she wants him to be her redeemer. That’s actually a legal term in the Old Testament. We don’t have time to explore it this week.
But for now, understand that Ruth is telling Boaz that she wants him to redeem her from a life of poverty and childlessness in a world that was so unkind to women without sons. She also knows this will redeem Naomi, who is also a childless widow. We’ll talk about that more next week.
So you need to understand what a gutsy thing Ruth just did. Ruth proposed marriage to Boaz! And in that culture, that just wasn’t done. A woman didn’t propose to a man!
Especially a woman who, on paper, had absolutely nothing to offer! She wasn’t from a well-to-do local family. She wasn’t even from that country! And it was uncertain that she could ever give him any sons.
But Ruth’s spunk absolutely impressed Boaz. As it always had. And he gave her the sweetest answer. I mean, it totally gives me all the feels. He told her: You haven’t gone after rich or poor young men … don’t be afraid. I’ll do for you everything you are asking.
Yes, there was an age difference between Ruth and Boaz. But Ruth had chosen him, with his greying beard and dad bod.
Not one of the muscle-bound farmhands she saw working in the fields every day.
Not even one of the younger, wealthy landowners. No—Ruth asked Boaz to redeem her. I’m sure that totally flattered him.
And Boaz said yes!
There was only one complication. This whole marriage-redeemer arrangement was a legal matter. And there was another dude who had first dibs on redeeming Ruth—a legal claim.
But Boaz thought he could find a work-around for that. More on that next week!
I know that part’s not very romantic. But that’s how they did things back then.
And I can’t stress this enough. Boaz was potentially making a huge sacrifice if he married Ruth. He’d have to put up money to redeem her. And there was still the risk that Ruth would never give him a son.
But I can’t help but think that Boaz saw God’s fingerprints all over Ruth’s proposal. Just like Naomi saw God’s fingerprints on the thirty pound sack of grain Ruth brought back from her first day of gleaning in Boaz’s field.
And as Boaz looked across this smart, faithful, resilient, good-smelling young woman who was lying next to him; and saw the pile of grain God had blessed him with that year—Boaz just knew everything was going to be okay.
And that’s our story for this week. And that’s the lesson.
At the intersection of God’s grace and human grace
Ruth had been a vessel of God’s grace for Naomi. Naomi could never pay God back for all the kindness he’d shown her. But she could absolutely pay it forward by helping to secure a future for Ruth. Just like Ruth had helped secure Naomi’s future.
And there was no way Boaz could repay all the rich harvests God had blessed him with. But he could also pay God’s blessings forward. By marrying Ruth and spreading his wings over her.
Naomi and Boaz couldn’t repay all God’s kindness and faithfulness to them. But they could pay it forward. To this remarkable lady, Ruth.
So the story of Ruth is completely a story of grace.
God’s grace for, sure.
For Naomi. For Ruth. And for Boaz.
And God’s grace comes in so many forms in this story.
It comes as food—and a renewed hope for the future—for Naomi.
It comes as a home among God’s people for Ruth.
And it comes as a rich harvest for Boaz.
Ruth is a story about how God’s grace intersects with human grace.
In an act of pure grace, Ruth leaves everything behind
to care for her widowed mother-in-law.
In an act of pure grace, Boaz sends Ruth home
with thirty pounds of grain.
In an act of pure grace, Naomi makes a plan
to secure Ruth’s future through marriage to Boaz.
In an act of pure grace, Boaz agrees to marry Ruth,
so she can find shelter under his protective wings.
And in some mysterious way that none of them could see at the time, God was working through the grace they showed to each other.
Naomi knew she could never repay the faithfulness God had shown her through Ruth. But she knew she could pay it forward.
Boaz knew he could never repay God for the blessing of a rich harvest. But he knew he could pay it forward.
What God does when we pay it forward
And that’s where this story from the Bible intersects with your life and my life and our life as a church.
I want you just to take a few seconds to reflect on the blessings God has given you.
What you were able to think of in those few seconds probably only scratched the surface of the grace and kindness God has shown you.
Our debts to God are as real as the earth we walk on. The sunshine and the rain. All the meals we have eaten. The air we breathe.
Our debts to God are as real as the body of his Son, Jesus. Whose life, death, and resurrection have forgiven our sins and saved us.
And we can never repay any of that. But we can and must pay it forward.
Listen to the words of 1 Pet. 4.10: As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace.
In other words, all of us have received gifts, blessings, and opportunities from God. It’s all God’s grace. And God calls us to use the grace we’ve been given—our gifts, our blessings, our opportunities—to serve other people. And when we do that, we’re sharing God’s grace. We’re paying it forward.
In the story of Ruth, we see the main characters—Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz—doing just that. And in really ordinary ways. Like taking care of family. Giving some food to people who need it. Accepting a marriage proposal.
These are things that happen every day, aren’t they? But God used them to do beautiful things! Not just for Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. But as I like to remind you every week—God raised up King David through this family. And this little family becomes the family God chose Jesus to be born into.
And so my challenge to all of us this week is to look for an opportunity to pay it forward. God’s always giving us those opportunities. It might be something as simple as a cup of coffee and a conversation with a lonely person. Or showing up for one of our service or fellowship activities throughout the week. Giving a smile or a hug. Inviting someone over for a meal.
Those things might seem small and insignificant at the time. But if Ruth teaches us anything, it’s that God does extraordinary things through our ordinary, everyday acts of kindness.