Reformed Perspectives Magazine, Volume 6, Number 14, May 5 to May 11, 2004

Abundant Blessing
A sermon on Ruth 4:1-22
by Russell Smith

The final chapter. You will remember that we first encountered Naomi as an Israelite in a foreign land. She lost her husband and both sons, and thus all means of support -- she was an impoverished widow and was in deep despair. Her daughter in law, Ruth, remained faithful to her and returned with her to Israel. And then we began to see God working behind the scenes to raise the hopes of Naomi and even raise them to great expectations. We saw how God planted seeds of hope within his law, God raised hope through the individual initiative of Ruth and Naomi, and how God raises hope through the kindness of others, in this case the gentleman Boaz, who becomes the benefactor of Naomi and Ruth.

This week, as we wrap up this series on Ordinary people, extraordinary God, we see how God uses these quite ordinary people to provide abundant blessing -- blessing even beyond the wildest dreams of the people in the story.

Ruth 4
Boaz Marries Ruth
1 Meanwhile Boaz went up to the town gate and sat there. When the kinsman-redeemer he had mentioned came along, Boaz said, "Come over here, my friend, and sit down." So he went over and sat down.
2 Boaz took ten of the elders of the town and said, "Sit here," and they did so. 3 Then he said to the kinsman-redeemer, "Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our brother Elimelech. 4 I thought I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, do so. But if you [1] will not, tell me, so I will know. For no one has the right to do it except you, and I am next in line."
"I will redeem it," he said.
5 Then Boaz said, "On the day you buy the land from Naomi and from Ruth the Moabitess, you acquire [2] the dead man's widow, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property."
6 At this, the kinsman-redeemer said, "Then I cannot redeem it because I might endanger my own estate. You redeem it yourself. I cannot do it."
7 (Now in earlier times in Israel, for the redemption and transfer of property to become final, one party took off his sandal and gave it to the other. This was the method of legalizing transactions in Israel.)
8 So the kinsman-redeemer said to Boaz, "Buy it yourself." And he removed his sandal.
9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, "Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon's widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!"
11 Then the elders and all those at the gate said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah."

The Genealogy of David
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the LORD , who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth."
16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
18 This, then, is the family line of Perez:

Perez was the father of Hezron,
19 Hezron the father of Ram,
Ram the father of Amminadab,
20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon,
Nahshon the father of Salmon, [3]
21 Salmon the father of Boaz,
Boaz the father of Obed,
22 Obed the father of Jesse,
and Jesse the father of David.

You'll recall that last week we left off with Naomi and Ruth expecting Boaz to exercise his right and duty to marry Ruth and raise up a family for his dead cousin -- if you missed that sermon, there's no time to go into the cultural details again -- you'll just have to request a tape from David. We're all rooting for Boaz to do this, but there is the problem that there is a closer relative who gets first dibs. Thus, Boaz has to arrange everything so that he has a legal right to marry Ruth. He arranges to meet the other relative in the city gates, the place where trade and transactions were sealed before the watching eyes of the city elders. Then he lays out the terms, stressing the responsibilities that the other relative will have. There's a bit of a comic tone in all this -- the other relative at first salivating at the prospect of getting some good lands, but then wincing at having to raise up a family that might sap his inheritance away from his own children. Ultimately this fellow shirks his duty and defers to Boaz. Boaz gets to marry Ruth. Ruth, the foreigner who was so faithful, gives birth to Obed. And we close the story with Naomi, the faithful grandmother, taking care of baby Obed. She has traveled from despair to hope to expectation to blessing. The credits roll, the house lights come up, and everyone goes hope feeling good about the end of the movie.

Except, that this is God's story. It is true that God loves to bless us individually -- that He can transform our times of despair into times of hope. It is true that God has good things in store for his people, even though they must travel through difficult times to get there. But, it is also true that the blessings that God has in mind for his people often have a much larger result than they ever anticipated.

The book of Ruth does not end with Naomi cuddling Obed. Rather it ends by saying that Obed grew up and became the father of a man named Jesse, and Jesse grew up to become the father of David. And then David grew up -- and this was years after Boaz and Naomi and Ruth were all dead and gone. -- and he became the king of Israel. Not just the king, but the king who established a golden age, a man after God's own heart, the ideal to which all later kings would aspire, and yet only achieve pale comparison. David became the king that would establish order and peace in the turbulent land. David would be a blessing that Boaz, Ruth, and Naomi could never have expected.

This is often the way -- that God working through His faithful ordinary people, produces blessing in the lives of others. But God also compound that blessing in an extraordinary way so that carries on in totally unexpected ways.

My mother grew up in Union, SC. Just up the street from her family was the Culp family -- little John Culp was about the same age as my mother's baby brother Paul, who we call Buzzy. John Culp had a terrible speech impediment. He could hardly talk -- stuttering was a terrible problem for him. You can imagine the cruelty of some of the neighborhood children as well. But uncle Buzzy befriended John. John always was thankful for the kindness of my uncle Buzzy, and my grandfather.

Through that kindness, God was able to help John have the self-confidence to overcome that speech impediment. John himself called it a miracle. He was miraculously able to talk and show the world what a fine mind he had. That would be a fine story of blessing in of itself, if it ended right there.

But you see, with his newfound confidence, John also felt a calling on his life -- a calling to be a preacher. And John through his study of the scriptures put his faith into action by starting a rural mission organization. In the late 1970's, John took a team of teenagers and adults to the sea islands of South Carolina and spent a week repairing houses for the destitute. Other churches heard about this and joined his church. Soon, they had a summer camp with over a hundred people coming each year. And then there were multiple camps. They called it Salkehatchie Summer Service. Teams of youth and adults would fan out across the state of South Carolina, spending a week working on renovating homes for the poor and needy. Hundreds of families have been helped by John's ministry: the elderly, the handicapped, the single working mothers. An example of a small kindness that God used to develop into an abundant blessing.

But this is a God sized story. For you see, of all the teenagers who came to work in Salkehatchie camps over the years, dozens of them sensed a call on their lives to vocational ministry. And they went into churches and mission posts, again multiplying the blessing even more. And God's people are nourished because their shepherd sensed a call while on a mission trip that was started by a pastor who was shown a kindness while he was a young boy. Again, an example of a small kindness that God used to develop into an abundant blessing.

But this is a God sized story. You see, in the summer of 1994, a young man was at one of John Culp's Salkehatchie work camps. He had participated in these camps for many years before, but this year was different. He had just lost his job and he was struggling with what direction his life would take. He went to the work camp not knowing what to do with his life, and he came back knowing that God was calling him to ministry. He took another job to raise money to pay for school, he went to school, and then became an ordained presbyterian minister. That young man was me. A kindness that my uncle and grandfather showed in the 1950's resulted in a blessing for me in the 1990's.

Of course I realize that there were other influences on John's life, just as there were other influences on my life and on all the other lives in the story. The point is not to show that one action was directly responsible for the later results. Rather, the point is to show that God is behind the scenes and he so orchestrates events as to result in abundant blessing. It is God who ultimately encouraged John Culp's heart to go to ministry, It is God who ultimately directed all those people to work in Salkehatchie camps, It was God who worked on my heart. But is was God's good pleasure to use all these ordinary people to accomplish His extraordinary will.

I have heard it said, and I believe it true that there is no waste in God's economy. God can and does take anything and transform it for his purposes. He took Naomi's despair and transformed it into an opportunity to bring Ruth to Israel so she could be a source of abundant blessing. He took John Culp's disability and transformed it into an opportunity for him to rely more fully on God speaking through him. If it is true for them, then it is true for us. No matter how hard the circumstances, no matter how painful the situation in which we find ourselves, no matter how deep our despair, our God is bigger than all that. Our God is able, in his own timing, to transform our pain into an opportunity for abundant blessing. That is why we can move from despair to hope to expectation to blessing, because we know the character of our extraordinary God.

So we've seen how God ultimately used this despairing widow, this hard working and faithful foreign girl Ruth, and this kindly older man Boaz, to produce abundant blessing for Israel in their descendent David. But this is a God sized story, and the blessing doesn't end there. You see, centuries later, they would have an even more famous descendent. Look at the Gospel of Matthew, 1:1-6. In this genealogy we see that Boaz and Ruth are specifically mentioned as ancestors of Jesus. This section lists three Old Testament women: Tamar, Rahab, and Ruth -- all foreign born women who were heroes in their own right, each one a distant ancestor of Jesus. God uses these unexpected ordinary people to ultimately provide the greatest blessing of all for all of humanity.

Jesus birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension, were God's crowning achievement. Through Jesus, God takes the initiative to cleanse the guilt from his faithful. Through Jesus, God shows his love for us. Through Jesus God opens the doorway for us to have direct relationship with Him. Through Jesus, God wins the ultimate victory over sin and death. Through Jesus, God provides the abundant blessing we all yearn for. Through faith in Christ, we receive the fullness of God's abundant blessing --- eternal life to enjoy relationship with Him.

That is what we celebrate at Christmas. The abundant blessing of Jesus. Christmas isn't about packages and parties and happy music and decorations and cards. Christmas is about the tiny child who is the culmination of the hopes and dreams of all the years. The story of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz ultimately lead us to the story of Jesus. The town of Bethlehem, where they lived was the same town where Jesus would later be born. The fields in which Naomi gleaned were likely the same fields where the angels appeared to the shepherds binging good tidings of great joy.

Our God, our extraordinary God, used the lives of these ordinary people, to produce an abundant blessing for all people. And he still uses ordinary people to accomplish his extraordinary will. Just consider, if he so used Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, how will God use you. How will He take your faith and your actions of kindness and compound them to produce abundant blessing that you cannot anticipate? You think about that. 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)