Widows, Subversion and Work of God

November 11, 2018

(Proper 27/ 25th Sunday after Pentecost / the 32nd Sunday of Ordinary Time)

Service for the Lord’s Day

Indian Hill Church

Cincinnati, OH

Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17

Psalm 127

Mark 12:38-44

Reverend Dr. Stephen Caine

 

3:1 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. 2 Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he 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.” 5 She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”

 

4:13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David. (Ruth 3:1-5; 4:13-17, NRSV)

 

12:38 As he taught, he said, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, 39 and to have the best seats in the synagogues and places of honor at banquets! 40 They devour widows’ houses and for the sake of appearance say long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.” 41 He sat down opposite the treasury, and watched the crowd putting money into the treasury. Many rich people put in large sums. 42 A poor widow came and put in two small copper coins, which are worth a penny. 43 Then he called his disciples and said to them, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the treasury. 44 For all of them have contributed out of their abundance; but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” (Mark 12:38-44, NRSV)

 

Let us Pray – May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable unto to you O God, our creator, our redeemer, and our sustainer. Amen.

 

Our stories for today focus on women, especially widows and their subversive acts.  I am going to focus only on the Old Testament reading.  It is an abundant story that is not particularly safe for work, as you notice the lectionary skips all the sexual innuendos.  I will let you read the racy parts for yourself.

 

Some background to set up our reading for today.  This little book of Ruth tucked in between Judges and First Samuel tells the story of three people: Naomi, a widow from Bethlehem; Ruth, her daughter-in-law; and Boaz, a wealthy farmer. Most scholars believe that the book of Ruth was written before the Israelites were forced into Exile. Many scholars believe the importance of the book of Ruth is to establish the heritage and ancestors of King David, who will become the king of Israel.

 

Regardless of the exact heritage all agree that the story of Ruth is a story for all time, a story of vulnerability, loyalty, and faithfulness.

 

Naomi, the wife of Elimelech and the mother of Mahlon and Chilion, has just lost her husband Elimelech.  She is widowed living in a foreign land during a horrible famine.   She is determined to return to her homeland but she husband-less, and her sons have both died as well.  So, she is all alone.  All she has left is her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth.   These three widows are at the mercy of a patriarchal society with no “husband” to “care” for them.  It was the custom for any woman who was not attached to a male was at the mercy of economic and social forces were set up against them.  There was a law called the law of levirate marriage that specified that a widow be claimed by the nearest male relative of the deceased man is obliged to marry his brother’s widow.  So that she and her offspring would be provided with a name, with a home.

 

Naomi is strong, she is proud, she is resilient, and she wants to go home so that when she dies, she will die in her homeland.  She does not want her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth to go with her.   So, she pleads with them to return to their own family’s home in keeping with the customs of the day.

 

Orpah decides to go back to her homeland and to live with her family.  While, Ruth, decides to break with tradition and she vows to go with Naomi back to Bethlehem.  Ruth’s decision may seem like an easy one to us today, but it was actually very monumental.  It was a decision with an ever-lasting impact.

 

Now, Ruth is an outsider in many ways.  She is an outsider to the family being the daughter-in-law.  She is an outsider to the tribe of Israel because she is a Moabite. And she is an outsider because she is a woman.  But she makes a decision that shows her fortitude and her servant spirit, which is even more powerful because she is an outsider.

 

Ruth, the outsider shows us how to truly love and serve others!

 

 

Why would she make a choice to follow her mother-in-law to a foreign land to presumedly die?  At a time of such vulnerability how could Ruth be so loyal?

 

Many Biblical scholars say that this story is imagery of what God does for each of us. Ruth being the image of God. That like Ruth, God will break with tradition to care for us and go with us.

 

So, Ruth, in a supreme act of devotion, follows Naomi to Bethlehem the home of Boaz.  Remember that Boaz, the wealthy farmer is also a relative of Naomi’s dead husband.  So, in an act of subversion Naomi puts together a scheme to send Ruth to meet Boaz, in hope that Boaz might become their “redeemer”  and rescue them from their economic suffering and dependence.  It is through this secret meeting on the threshing floor that Ruth and the clever Boaz connect.  Later in front of the city elders, Boaz claims Ruth as his wife, then they marry.  Later they have a child who continues the Davidic line that eventually leads to the birth of Jesus.

 

The subtext of this story of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz is a metaphor for how God intersects with humanity.  Not many of us today are able to experience God in the direct way that the characters of Ruth’s story did but it is worth examining.  We may not experience God as a burning bush, a descending dove or even a booming voice from above.  We may not be able to see God as a chess master visibly moving us through the events of our lives or as the divine puppeteer directing our every move.  However, if we examine our lives, we may be able to see God in the details as the one to whom we attribute some amount of responsibility for the circumstances in our lives, as well as those of the world at large.

We see football players kneel in prayer giving thanks to God after scoring a touchdown. We hear friends and relatives give thanks to God for the outcomes of the recent elections or when they get a job or when they escape harm in an accident.  It is easier to see God’s hand at work when our lives go well, and we feel blessed.  But I hope you notice that Naomi attributed her calamities and hardships to God as well as her ultimate happy ending.

 

The book of Ruth shows how the actions and commitments of ordinary and even unexpected people such as foreigners and widows can change the course of history for the better.  The decisions of these women especially help to redefine our understanding of family, as it shows the work of God to bring about the birth of the grandfather of King David, which ultimately leads to the birth of Jesus.

 

Later today as we celebrate The Kirkin of the Tartans’ is in itself a celebration of an act of subversion.  On July 25, 1745, the young Prince Charles Edward Stewart, “Bonnie Prince Charlie” returned from exile in France by way of Scotland where he enlisted many of the Highland Clans to join him to try to overthrow King George II of England.  He hoped to overthrow the King and he promised the Highlanders that if successful he would restore the Scottish throne to the Royal House of Stewart. There overthrow attempt was unsuccessful.

 

In response King George II enacted the Act of Proscription — to subdue the Highland clans.  The Act of Proscription banned the wearing of any sign of the Tartan, forbade speaking in Gaelic, outlawed Scottish music, dancing, and the playing of the pipes.

 

Legend has it that during the 36 years following the Disarming Act of 1746 the clans would carry small pieces of their banned tartan cloths under their cloaks to the Kirk (Church). During the worship service the Scottish clergy would offer a secret blessing for the clans and their hidden tartans.  The Highland clans rededicated themselves to God and their Scottish heritage.

 

These Scottish clans were more than just blood relatives they were a gathering of people for protection and for economic, political and social support. Specific tartans developed because each Highland area liked to weave a certain design using local herbs and dyes. The clans and their representative tartans are symbols of the importance of community and clan was the family. The tartan is a symbol of this love and togetherness.

 

So, just think, if God can act through two widowed and destitute women and our ancestors who were stripped of their heritage to change the direction of history how might God act through you, me, our congregation?  I think the lesson is clear that most often God is acting through the least of these the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger, the least, the last, and the lost.  So, friends we are invited to open our eyes to notice them for we just might see God at work.

 

Let Us Pray – God of the past, we give you thanks for servants like Ruth who show us how to love and follow. God of the here and now, be with us as we attempt to, follow the way of Christ. God of the future walk with us each of this journey giving us a strength beyond our understanding. AMEN.