Finding Meaning in the Story of Ruth

A sermon on finding meaning in the Book of Ruth, based on Ruth 3:1-9 (Proper 27B).

Introduction

The Book of Ruth is story about the harvest.

A fortnight ago, we heard about Naomi’s husband taking them away during difficult times: ‘the grass is always greener somewhere else’.

Last week, we heard that Naomi, embittered by the loss of her husband AND her two sons, returns to her people:

  • Ruth is extraordinarily faithful to her mother-in-law.
  • Ruth’s character attracts Boaz’ attention and brings blessing on both women. 

This story is set in a patriarchal society, yet it lionizes the women.

(N.B. In Israel, there are two harvests per year, one at Pentecost and another one later in the year.)

Meaning at the Time

We can see that this is parable about:

  • Being faithful to God, faithful to one’s people, community or group, faithful to family. Being true to oneself.
  • Naomi sees a way to secure her daughter-in-law’s future (also hers and Boaz’s!):
  • Ruth needs a husband; Boaz needs a wife – he is a kinsman: it’s traditional!
  1. Why hasn’t Boaz made the first move, when he should?
  2. It doesn’t matter: Naomi obeyed her husband, and look what happened to them!
  3. Ruth asks for a corner of the blanket (God’s wing) – marriage.

Meaning During the Return from Exile

When this story was written down (we think) it may be a story about identity:

  • The remnant of the Jewish people return to their land.
  • Some have compromised and married outside the faith.
  • Who is ‘inside’ and who is an ‘outsider’?
  • This story reminds the people that Ruth – a Moabite, a hated foreigner – was the grandmother of King David.

Meaning for Today

Today we can see all these things and more:

  • Ruth is not only the ancestor of King David but of Jesus himself.
  • This is a story about the common sense and dignity of ordinary folk being more important than dogma and labels.
  • This is a celebration of the triumph of good over evil – there are never enough of these!
  • The harvest in this life or the next is there for those who will work with God and in accordance with His will and character, and not against him!
  • How fitting that we should be reminded of this every year, or even twice a year! 

Meeting Our Needs

A message about allowing God to help us meet our needs, based on Exodus 17:1-7, John 4:5-42 & Romans 5:1-11 (Lent 3A)

Introduction

We are going to hear from three pieces of scripture today, but I only have time to read one – Exodus 17:1-7.

Old Testament Scripture

So God’s people are wandering in the desert and there isn’t much water.  They get annoyed with God and take it out on Moses.  At his wits’ end, Moses cries out to God, and He meets their needs – in style!  Moses doesn’t let the people forget their moaning…

We usually call this place the ‘desert of sin’, which makes it sound like it’s the people’s fault that they are there, but their rebellion and 40 years’ wandering in the desert is yet to come.  It may be that God took them that way for their own protection, to avoid conflict.

New Testament Scripture

In John 4:5-42 Jesus meets the Samaritan woman at the well and asks for a drink.  Rabbis don’t talk to women, or Samaritans and they certainly don’t get water from them!  Jesus is breaking down barriers here, and offers the woman ‘living water’, just what God did for Moses.

Finally, in Romans 5:1-11 Paul reminds the Roman church that Jesus was willing to offer us not just water, but to spill his own blood for us.  He dies to lift us out of the desert of sin and bring us close to God.

My ‘Needs’ – a Personal Application

Maybe you’re like me; I like my comforts and when times are difficult my first instinct is to grumble, instead of taking my concerns to God.  I like to be in control and solve my own problems, but the truth is that I can’t solve the big problems in life, and I only get angry trying to.  Perhaps I need to get closer to God and allow Him to help me.

“Therefore…

…since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (Romans 5:1) Amen

Part of the Solution

‘Part of the Solution’ is a sermon based on Haggai 1:15b—2:9 (Proper 27c).

Introduction

Haggai’s audience were trying to rebuild the temple after the exile, and who felt that all they had managed to build looked like a pathetic little shed compared to the glory of what had come before.

It is easy to get discouraged if we look back and compare our glory days to our present situation We could:

  • Think about the churches we used to belong to – how great they were;
  • Look back on days when Australia was a simpler country to live in, where we felt we had all the answers; or
  • Remember the days when we were strong and needed, felt better, or could simply remember stuff!

Meaning

Haggai does not criticise their efforts, or pretend that their new temple looked magnificent. It didn’t, but so what? “Take courage, all of you, says the Lord, for I am with you. My spirit is among you; do not fear.”

He says God is promising to do something new and the treasures of many nations will fill this house with splendour, for “the silver is mine, and the gold is mine, says the Lord.” Let’s take note that:

  • God is not asking us to build something better, but is promising to fill what we have built with good things. It is not what we build that matters, but what God does with it and what God fills it with.
  • We are not responsible for filling it either. Everything that will go into it already belongs to God and will be put where God wants it.
  • The final splendour of God’s home on earth consists of the treasures of all sorts of people and places. We are just one little contributor among many.

Haggai the prophet was speaking to the high priest, the governor and the people.  We might feel weak and insignificant, but we are ‘a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation’ (1Pet2:9) and ‘For we are co-workers in God’s service; you are God’s field, God’s building’ (1Cor3:9).

We CAN be Part of the Solution

We’re not the whole story, but if we play your part and make our contribution, then we will be a meaningful and fruitful part of the kingdom of God through which all the world will be blessed.

Amen.

Investing Wisely

‘Investing Wisely’ is a sermon that aims to ask: where is our treasure and what is our perspective? It’s based on Jeremiah 32:1-15 and Luke 16:19-31 (Pentecost 18)

It’s 587BC and Jeremiah is in a tight spot

  • He’s been falsely arrested for Treason because he prophesied against the King.
  • He’s imprisoned in the Guardhouse of the Royal Palace.
  • Jerusalem is under siege, surrounded by Babylonian troops.
  • Then Hanamel his Nephew appears and asks him to buy a field – three miles behind enemy lines!  
  • Jeremiah could have pointed out the absurdity of what Hanamel was asking, but:
    • The Word of God has told Jeremiah that this would happen.
    • It is the law that he should buy the field and keep it in the family

Luke 16:19-31.  Now we have a very different picture

  • Jesus tells a parable, perhaps reusing a familiar folk story.  Note that:
    • It isn’t orthodox in the Christian sense – it doesn’t say salvation is by faith!
    • Jesus uses current belief – the focus is on right living rather than right belief.
    • Lazarus is the only named character in a parable of Jesus.
  • The rich man shows no interest in Lazarus, although he lives under his nose.
    • He has food to spare and Lazarus would gladly eat it – but no luck.
    • He doesn’t even think of others until he is in Hell (and then it’s his brothers).
  • In v31 Jesus ironically refers to Lazarus, raised from the dead, and perhaps himself.

Message for Today

  • The obvious message from the parable in Luke is a warning to us in the rich West.
    • Here we are indulging ourselves to death, while others die for lack of clean water.
    • The faithless might use such (tabloid) stories to say “there ain’t no justice” (or God).
    • I am fearful of what God will allow to happen to our society. (How angry is God?)
    • That’s perhaps what you would expect me to say – and it’s true!
  • However, when put next to the Jeremiah passage another view emerges.
    • Jeremiah could have needed that silver to keep him alive (bribes for the guard).
    • His far-sighted actions would enable his heirs to claim their land after the exile.
  • The message for today is what are we investing in?  Where is our treasure and our hearts?

Conclusion: investing

  • Jeremiah was in prison in a city under siege; he knew the enemy would win.
  • We are imprisoned in physical bodies, in a materialistic society in a physical universe.
  • We are not going to win this fight (a thought typical of Jeremiah)!
    • We will not live forever.
    • The church will not win over society and save society from itself.
    • Occasional miracles aside, God will not intervene to save our planet from us.
  • People without faith expect God to act in a timescale to suit them – they’re dead wrong!
    • God will act when and where and how He deems best for His purposes.
    • We are called to invest our hearts and treasure in God’s purposes and his timescale.
  • Our privileged relationship with God allows us to see things from His perspective.
  • “Your will be done, on Earth as it is in Heaven, Amen.”

At the Potter’s House

‘At the Potter’s House’ is a sermon on Jeremiah 18:1-11 (Proper 18C)

Introduction

God prompts Jeremiah to go to the potter’s house promising that he will see something interesting.  Jeremiah immediately discerns God’s message in what he sees. 

Message at the Time 

God’s message in 600BC is to a people who notionally belong to him, but worship him in name only.  Instead of relying on God and being obedient to Him, they have politics, money, international trade and alliances with foreign powers.  Jeremiah warns God’s people again and again, but they ignore him.  They ignore all the warnings and their nation is destroyed.

Message for Today

I wonder if we would do any better today?  The message is that God shapes nations and peoples as He sees fit to get the best results He can. So the first question is the best result for whom?

  • Given that we worship a god of love I suppose it’s obvious we would conclude that the results would be the best for us.
  • But being reshaped by the potter sounds painful doesn’t it?
  • Perhaps it’s the best result for everyone for the whole nation, for the whole community.

The other question Is that how white people react to the shaping?

  • Some deny that there is a god who is interested in us at all.
  • Many more imagine an angry God they want to hide from – they work hard to hide from Him.
  • Others will say it’s my life no one else can tell me what to do, or tell me how I should live my life.
    • This is understandable, but again it denies a loving God.
    • It also says more about them: “I know what’s best for me – nobody else knows me better than I do.”
    • It’s an arrogant and self-centred approach; also it’s doomed to fail: do we know better than any/everyone else? Better than God?
  • We’re all tempted to avoid a broader perspective, because taking the broad view might mean making personal, painful sacrifices.

Conclusion

Of course, we should avoid all those mistakes!  We know God personally and know that he has plans to prosper His people and not to harm us.  We know that we make mistakes and that we need correction.  Sometimes Nations get it wrong, and ordinary people suffer the consequences – war, famine, disaster.  Whatever befalls, we know a loving God who helps us to understand why these things happen.  Perhaps we will even change – and be better!

Whole Worship

A sermon on a whole life as whole worship, based on Isaiah 1:1-10 (Proper 14C).

Aim:  To see that a whole life offered to God is worship.

In Isaiah 1:1-10 we have part of his first message to his people from God.  It doesn’t start well.  God begins by comparing His people to the rulers and people of Sodom and Gomorrah, towns so immoral that God destroyed them!

Surprisingly, God then goes on to say He is fed up with their sacrifices, festivals and prayers, which is odd since God started these things through Moses!  Surely God wants us to keep praying to Him?

Meaning at the Time

This message is typical of the Old Testament prophets. Not just Isaiah, but many others say the same thing.  It’s as though God’s people are using incense as a smoke screen to cover up their wrong doings, they are using the many sacrifices and festivals to try and distract his attention from their day-to-day lives.  And we can see from Isaiah message, their ‘ordinary’ lives were not pleasing God.  He wants v16-17 instead.  God is just sick and tired of all the Temple worship, because it is fake.

Meaning & Application for Today

So, what is our response?

  • Worship.  We ask forgiveness, we give him thanks, we praise Him and we pray for others.
  • Work.  We follow the example of the prophets, Jesus and other disciples, bringing healing, justice, friendship and care in the world.  (‘But we’re retired!’)
  • Witness.  We share the Good News – this is not something we hoard for ourselves, but rather we want everyone to enjoy what we have!

I note that the world loves to accuse us of being fakes, but they don’t want the whole package either, and they never did.  Jesus and the prophets were killed because they offered that. We should not expect the godless to behave with grace.

Isaiah finishes on a hopeful note.  If the people stop doing wrong and come to God for forgiveness, they can be clean again.  If they’re willing and obedient they will have the best the land has to offer, but the disobedient will be destroyed.

Conclusion

We worship a whole God – father, son and holy spirit – and we don’t bring half a life of worship.  We commit our whole selves and a whole life in worship, because through the grace of Jesus Christ, we can.