November 7, 2021 (Pastor's Message)
Twenty-Fourth Sunday After Pentecost
Old Testament Reading: Ruth 3: 1-5 & 4: 13-17
New Testament Reading: Mark 12: 38-44
Message: "Risk and Restoration"
We so casually go to
the supermarket and pick up a loaf of bread. The task is so easy; it defies
comment. In our world, every corner store, every food warehouse has shelves of
bread: white, whole wheat, multi-grain, rye, barley, cornbread, egg bread, pita
bread, sliced, unsliced, plastic wrapped, paper bagged, and unwrapped. The
bread comes in loaves of all shapes and sizes: long bread sticks, round loaves,
brick shaped, or loaf shaped as the dough determines. All we have to do is
choose the one we want.
Unlike most of the people of history, we do not know the farmer who planted the seeds that made the grain to make the bread. We do not know the farmer's name. We do not know where, nor do we know how, to find the place where the wheat was threshed to get the grain to make the flour to make the bread. Nor do we know who took the trouble to bake the bread and transport it to us. Nor do we care.
In ancient times, you and I would have lived or died if the seeds were not planted, if the rain did not come, if the wheat was not harvested, if the grain was not threshed, the flour ground, and the bread baked. There was nothing casual about a loaf of bread!
Everybody was quite aware of the fact that the seeds needed to be planted, rain was needed for there to be a harvest, the grain needed to be threshed, and the ground flour was needed to have the bread of life so that one would not die. One picked up a loaf of bread with sacred reverence.
Between the planting of the seeds and the making of the bread was a pivotal ritual: the grain needed to be threshed -- the wheat needs to be separated from the chaff before you can make the flour that you need for the bread.
We may have a question for Naomi's motives when we read the opening of chapter 3 when she was giving Ruth instructions on how to connect with her well-to-do kinsman, Boaz. We might question whether Naomi was self-interested or whether she was really concerned about getting her daughter-in-law, Ruth, a home and a husband. This question is one for us, but not for the people of the time. They were too close to the soil, too close to life and death, to be able to be phony.
Our story lives or dies on the principle that Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz were all people of sterling character. The actions of the text, the interchanges, the connections made, the consequences, and the resulting marriage of Ruth and Boaz, all hang on the genuine integrity of these individuals.
It goes without saying that Naomi predates feminism. She was a woman living in a man's world, but we would be in error to think that she did not have power. Naomi used her wisdom, her position in the community, and her knowledge of custom, culture, and men to instruct Ruth in how to connect positively with Boaz.
Ruth was fortunate because she had a mentor in her mother-in-law, Naomi. Ruth had someone she could confide in and trust implicitly. Naomi was one who had "been there, done that, and had the video." The two women were powerfully joined by love, trust and integrity. They acted powerfully by the fact that they were not only women of character, but their relationship moved and flowed with the impulse of absolute trust.
Naomi chose a man of character, in the person of Boaz, for the best interests of her beloved Ruth.
Then Naomi instructs Ruth in the best way to connect with Boaz. She tells Ruth to wash and anoint herself, put on her best clothes, and wait until Boaz has had his meal. Then she is to uncover his feet, lie down at his feet, and do as he says. Her coaching has the desired effect as the closing verses have Ruth marrying Boaz and conceiving a son, Obed, who was to become the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The women of the community affirm that the love of Ruth is more important to Naomi than having seven sons. They affirm that God has blessed Naomi in restoring her family status and she becomes a nurse for the baby boy, Obed.
The story came together on the threshing floor, the place where the late afternoon breeze separated the chaff from the barley for the bread to be made. In this case it was not only the bread to be eaten but the bread of relationship: the chaff was separated from the grain. In all the possibilities of all of the variables of men and women who could have connected, the chaff was separated from the grain and Ruth became married to Boaz; thus the royal line of David went on. The spiritual thread that weaves its way through this story is the sterling character of these God-fearing people, Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz. The rightness of it all is confirmed by the wisdom and blessing of the women of the community.
Where are the threshing floors of our lives? Where is it that we can separate the chaff from the grain of the people we meet? Where is it that we can connect with the women and men of character to whom we might join our lives and live in blessedness? The threshing floor is and must be a place of nurture and character development and discernment. My friends, in the absence of places to take the grain, our entire lives have become our threshing floors!
Because we casually pick up our loaves of bread, and we don't have any threshing floors anymore, we need to forge our characters in our homes and our families and our churches. We need to teach our children how to discern character in the people they meet and in whom they choose to marry if we are to establish royal lines of character in our families. We need to honor the grief and pain of our lives on the threshing floors that exist.
When we treat the chaff in people we meet like they were wheat, we and our children get into destructive and dangerous trouble in our relationships. We need to be able to separate the chaff from the wheat.
The bread is on the shelf, but we still need to separate the chaff from the grain in our lives, and we still need to build character, because that is what makes it work. Real character is what makes life come together in positive and blessed ways.
Character is a principle. The character of Naomi connecting with Ruth and on to the man of character in Boaz is what moved the story on. The scripture is telling us that character connecting with character is what life is all about.
May God give us the grace to discern that our families and our churches are the threshing floors where we might build character and discern it in those with whom we choose to share our lives. Amen.
Blessings and Peace,
When This Is Over. . .
When this is over,
May we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger
Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors
A crowded theater
Friday night out
The taste of communion
A routine checkup
A school rush each morning
Coffee with a friend
The stadium roaring
Each deep breath
A boring Tuesday
When this ends,
May we find
That we have become
More like the people
We wanted to be
We were called to be
We hoped to be
And may we stay that way --
Better for each other
Because of the worst
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