IIIM Magazine Online, Volume 6, Number 11, March 31 to February 5, 2004

Great Expectations
A sermon on Ruth 3:1-18
by Russell Smith

Our story thus far — our Heroines Naomi and Ruth have returned to Israel from the distant land of Moab. Naomi, an Israelite by birth, has lost both her husband and her sons and is returning in absolute poverty. She is accompanied by her daughter in law Ruth, who is a foreign born Moabitess, and has no resources of her own. Arriving in Bethlehem, Ruth begins working as a poor widow, picking up the grain left behind in the field after the harvesters have gone through. She is noticed by a wealthy landowner, Boaz, who shows kindness to her and gives her full rights to gather with the harvesters. During the time of harvest, Boaz becomes the benefactor of Ruth and Naomi. Naomi identifies Boaz to Ruth as a kinsman of her dead husband, Elimelech.

We saw in last week's review of Chapter 2 that God had worked to raise Naomi up from despair to renewed hope. We saw some of the vehicles that God used to renew that hope — His law, individual initiative, and the kindness of others. This week, we see that God continues to use these 3 vehicles to raise us to have great expectations. So without further ado, let's dig in to the story.

Ruth 3:1-18

1 One day Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, "My daughter, should I not try to find a home for you, where you will be well provided for? 2 Is not Boaz, with whose servant girls you have been, a kinsman of ours? Tonight he will be winnowing barley on the threshing floor. 3 Wash and perfume yourself, and put on your best clothes. Then go down to the threshing floor, but don't let him know you are there until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go and uncover his feet and lie down. He will tell you what to do."
5 "I will do whatever you say," Ruth answered. 6 So she went down to the threshing floor and did everything her mother-in-law told her to do.
7 When Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went over to lie down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet and lay down. 8 In the middle of the night something startled the man, and he turned and discovered a woman lying at his feet.
9 "Who are you?" he asked.
"I am your servant Ruth," she said. "Spread the corner of your garment over me, since you are a kinsman-redeemer."
10 "The LORD bless you, my daughter," he replied. "This kindness is greater than that which you showed earlier: You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. 11 And now, my daughter, don't be afraid. I will do for you all you ask. All my fellow townsmen know that you are a woman of noble character. 12 Although it is true that I am near of kin, there is a kinsman-redeemer nearer than I. 13 Stay here for the night, and in the morning if he wants to redeem, good; let him redeem. But if he is not willing, as surely as the LORD lives I will do it. Lie here until morning."
14 So she lay at his feet until morning, but got up before anyone could be recognized; and he said, "Don't let it be known that a woman came to the threshing floor."
15 He also said, "Bring me the shawl you are wearing and hold it out." When she did so, he poured into it six measures of barley and put it on her. Then he went back to town.
16 When Ruth came to her mother-in-law, Naomi asked, "How did it go, my daughter?"
Then she told her everything Boaz had done for her 17 and added, "He gave me these six measures of barley, saying, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty-handed.' "
18 Then Naomi said, "Wait, my daughter, until you find out what happens. For the man will not rest until the matter is settled today."
First, God's very law provides reason for Naomi to have great expectations. We saw last week that God's law provided a measure of protection for widows so they would not be taken advantage of. God provided another law that not only protected widows, but also assured that families would continue -- we call this law levirate marriage. The principle is that if a married man died with no children, then his brother has the obligation to take in his widow and father children. These children will be considered children of the dead brother and they will carry on the family name and receive the inheritance. Deuteronomy 25:5-10 lays out the foundation for this custom. If you've ever read that passage in Matthew 22 where the Sadducees pose the problem of the widow who goes through 7 brothers, you've probably been puzzled by the scenario -- this is the law that explains where the Sadducees are going with their question.

This law gives hope for great expectations because it preserved hope for an heir. The ancient Israelites were always concerned with the next generation -- ongoing blessing through posterity. Look at the promises that God gave to Abraham: Genesis 12:1-3, 13:14-16, 15:5-6. Abraham could not have reasonably been expected to see the fulfillment of these promises in his lifetime. It was the promise of multitudes of descendents from generation to generation. It wasn't just a concern for descendents, but for heir who would live in relationship with the God of their fathers.

One of my very good friends, Simon Vibert, an evangelical Anglican pastor in Wimbledon England, gave me a terrific insight into this truth. When talking about the prospects of continued renewal of the Anglican church, he said, "success without a successor is failure." A successor isn't just someone who receives the benefits of success -- a successor is someone who is trained and prepared to receive the fruits of success and carry them on to the next generation. The most obvious way we do this is through our children. Children are our hope for the future. This is why scripture repeatedly tells parents to train their children in right acting and in a relationship with God. This means investing in the next generation -- I don't mean just investing dollars, I mean investing time and attention in building relationships. You parents do this as you pour yourselves into your children. You teachers do this heroically. You pour your lives into being positive role models and sources of encouragement and inspiration to the children -- the next generation -- you teachers are all heroes because of the role you play.

We have a group here in this church that lives out this concern for the next generation -- Our deacons have had an outreach to the Heberle Elementary school -- an inner city school. The team focuses on one second grade classroom -- our team members go into the class and provide individual attention, encouragement, and help. A couple of times a year, we have the kids over here for a special outing -- you can see photos from the thanksgiving celebration posted on the bulletin board in Metzger Hall. It's come to my attention that the deacons are expanding this outreach to include a second class. Why is this an important ministry -- because the next generation matters, and they need to know that God cares for them. We make the investment in the next generation in hope that they will come to faith in Christ.

There is always hope in the next generation -- that is why Naomi and Ruth get excited that Boaz is a near-kinsman -- he is the one who can give hope that a future generation will be raised through Ruth. That was part of the great expectation that God built into the law, and it's still something we live out today.

Second, we see that God builds great expectations through individual effort. Naomi knows that Boaz is a kinsman who could act as the redeemer, but she probably also knows that there is a closer kinsman. She knows Boaz' character and knows that he would be a better provider for Ruth. So she and Ruth cleverly devise a plan to approach Boaz to challenge him to take the initiative to be the kinsman redeemer. It's a risky plot. Waiting for the end of the harvest, after all the men have had their fill of wine and are a little tipsy. Then sneaking to where the men are asleep and laying at Boaz' feet. Taken the wrong way, her actions could be considered an improper sexual advance. She runs the risk of destroying her reputation; social shame. She runs the risk of offending Boaz and falling out of favor with her benefactor.

She risks greatly, trusting and having faith that God will take care of her. Risk taking is a huge component in individual initiative. Several years back, researcher Tom Stanley looked at traits of true millionaires -- not the people who make lots of money and burn through it like wildfire, but rather the people whose balance sheet shows that they have accumulated wealth. He came out with a book called The Millionaire Mind which details the different characteristics of these people -- one such characteristic is courage. he gives a great definition of courage: "Courage is taking positive moral actions that conjure up fear."

Walt and Roy Disney are household names now -- but back in the 1920's they were unknown. They began producing short animated films featuring a cheerful looking mouse. From the very beginning, they took risks: They produced the first talking cartoon and the first color cartoon. But in the mid 1930's, they started work on a project that sounded ludicrous -- a full length animated feature film. The buzz around the entertainment industry was that the Disney brothers had flipped -- they had gone too far. Who was going to pay to see a full length cartoon. Remember, that in those days, cartoons were only shorts that were shown before the main event. People started calling the project "Disney's Folly" -- that was until 1937 when Snow White Premiered. it became an instant classic and broke the records for filmmaking success. Disney in all his endeavors took individual action and risked big, never losing faith that he would prevail.

You know, 2 and a half years ago, when I asked my mentors about some of the opportunities before me, I told them about a little church in Cincinnati. It was an old downtown congregation with a beautiful building. The congregation had had some really tough times -- they had almost closed the doors. The reserve funds were dwindling rapidly, and there was talk of need of structural repairs -- and oh yes, they like a more traditional style of worship. All of them except one told me it was nuts -- don't try it. It would never work. But one of my mentors, Steve Brown, told me to go for it. Risk big -- go for it. You see, he and I recognized that this congregation had already risked big -- when all the people fled from downtown, this congregation stayed here; when things looked their darkest, and everyone said this church should close, this congregation said "No, we're going to make it" - when the prospects of finding a minister looked dim, they said, we're going to stick with it -- and God brought Ted Kalsbeek as interim. For the past 10 years, this congregation has risked mightily, because we in faith believe that God has something Big planned for us here in the heart of the city -- We believe that God's going to use us to change lives here in Cincinnati and across the tri-state region. And each one of you, God has brought here to play a part in that unfolding plan. We've risked big, stepping out on faith that God will provide. Risking in faith is part of our congregational DNA -- and it's exactly what God empowers us to do. Just like Ruth, our confidence in our relationship with God gives us the assurance to boldly step forward and play our part in His unfolding plan.

So we've seen that God raises expectations through his law, through individual initiative, and finally, through the kindness of others. Look at how Boaz responds in verse 10. First of all he gives a verbal blessing. Then he very humbly states that Ruth is blessing him. He gives assurance that he'll make things happen. He takes steps to guard Ruth's reputation, and then gives her a huge amount of food. When Ruth returns to Naomi and tells her the story, Naomi correctly discerns Boaz' intentions to fulfill the role of kinsman-redeemer. God raises the expectations of Ruth and Naomi through the kindness of Boaz.

One of the most powerful films in recent years is Stephen Spielberg's Schindler's List. It is based on the true story of a German factory owner in WWII who conspires to help a train load of Jewish workers escape a concentration camp and flee to Russia. I could feel the tension mount as Schindler and his Jewish accountant try every trick in the book to get more names -- He bankrupted himself so that he could rescue his workers. There's a poignant scene at the end of the film when they have all escaped to Russia, and Schindler and his wife are about to drive off. Schindler, still dressed as an elegant and respectable business man, begins to weep. He takes off a lapel pin. "This pin, this pin could have bought 10 more names." Here we see the heart of a man, a very flawed man as the film showed, who was moved to courage and kindness. But it's the very end of the film that shows the results. The end of the film shows the actors escorting the real people who benefited from Schindler's kindness to his grave -- and there they place a single stone on the grave. One by one, each actor escorts the real person they portrayed -- or if the person had died, their descendents. Until there was a pile of stones on the grave. The legacy, the great expectation, was life. Through his kindness and his courage, they had renewed life.

So God gives us great expectations through his law, through individual initiative, and through the kindness of others. Again, we saw that the culmination of these great expectations comes in Jesus. Indeed, Jesus was greater than any expectation that we could have held. Where the ancients hoped for a political messiah who would save the Israelites, Jesus was a spiritual messiah who would save the faithful from every nation and across the ages. But more on that for next week. Until next time, let's take Ruth's story to heart. Amen.

Rev. Russell B. Smith is pastor of Covenant-First Presbyterian Church, 717 Elm St., Cincinnati, OH (phone 513-621-4144; fax 513-621-1066)