Preacher: Chibuzo Petty
Scripture: Ruth 3: 1-18
Date: June 5, 2022
It is certainly good to be with you today on this exciting Pentecost, I have enjoyed seeing the artwork and hearing the prayers and music and being reminded that this is indeed a special day. This is a day that’s been special well beyond these past 2000 years. It’s important for us to remember that this idea that on days, especially like today, where we’re celebrating what we think of as Christian holidays, especially one like Pentecost where we are, it occurs in the biblical narrative after Easter after the resurrection. After the ascension, we think of these things like speaking in tongues, and we think of the book of Acts. And it’s important that we remember, though, that Pentecost is a thoroughly Jewish holiday.
In the same way that being a follower of Jesus is a thoroughly Jewish idea. Pentecost refers to 50. Those of you who are good at math or Pneumatology, you may, numerology may know these things. It’s related to the Passover, 50 days after Passover, which in Hebrew would have been referred to as Pesach, you have the feast of Shavuot. And that’s why if you look at a Jewish calendar, versus one used by most Christians, particularly in the West, you’ll see that the date for Shavuot and the date for Pentecost happen on different days every year. That’s because we use different calendars. And so, in the time of the first century, when people like Jesus and Paul are celebrating Pentecost, it wouldn’t have been the 50 days counted after Easter it would have been after Pesach. Shavuot is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals.
Now, for those of you who are perhaps unfamiliar with this concept, in the Hebrew Scriptures, there are three festivals in which it is customary for the Israelites, the Hebrew people, to travel from the diaspora wherever they are, and come to Jerusalem. This is a concept that’s pretty commonly understood today with another Abrahamic religion. The hajj in Islam is required, it is mandatory compulsory for Muslims to make this pilgrimage trip called the hajj and go to Mecca. Now, if Shavuot or Pentecost is one of the three biblical pilgrimage festivals, what might the other two be? It’s easy for us American Christians to think the most famous and most popular Jewish holiday is Hanukkah, because Hanukkah coincides with the Western Christian concept of Christmas. But that’s not true. While Hanukkah is not found, while Hanukkah is found in the New Testament, the second Testament, we do see Jesus and his disciples celebrating Hanukkah, the story of which is found in the Apocrypha, which you would find in Orthodox or Catholic Bibles and the stories like Maccabees, it is not found in the Old or First Testament the Hebrew Scriptures. Pesach, which we referred to earlier, which is Passover, is one of the other three biblical pilgrimage festivals as is Sukkot. Sukkot being the festival of booze, in which Jews would create makeshift shelters to remind themselves of the time in which they traveled in the wilderness. Shavuot, though, is a festival around the harvest. In Ruth2 verses 23, we see this. “So she stayed close to the young woman, woman of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests and she lived with her mother-in-law”.
We’re already seeing a connection between this book of Ruth and this holiday. In Exodus we see this in Exodus 23: 16, “You shall observe the festival of harvest of the first fruits of your labor of what you sow in the field, you shall observe the festival of in gathering at the end of the year when you gather in from the field, the fruit of your labor.” Again, agriculture, harvests, such important concepts for the ancient Jews. In Leviticus we read in 23: 22, “when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall leave that for the poor and for the alien, I am the Lord your God.” Sit with that for a moment, “when you reap the harvest of your life, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall leave it the poor, and for the alien.”
It’s a verse worth pondering, and it’s one I hope that you’ll take to heart and as we continue on in this, not just this specific service, but in this interim time together as we discern and vision, what might it look like for us to leave a bit at the edges of our harvest for the poor, for the alien. This idea of harvest of agriculture, being central to the Jewish people, is something we’ve already discussed in our time together. In one I’m sure you’ve understood from previous Sunday school lessons or times in which you just spent devotionally, reading the Scripture, I think of Amos and the many ways in which agriculture is central to that story.
I think at the plumb line, I think of Joe, I think of story after story after story, things that we take for granted. Even in the second testament, you see Jesus being scolded, because he’s working on the Sabbath. And, yes, of course, he heals people. But he also is seen in the fields. We see Jesus and the disciples dealing with…with oil, all of which are things that must be harvested. All of them are things that we rely on agriculture to attain. Even as you look into later instances, like beyond the gospel and the book of Revelation, for instance, hear this about harvesting. This is from the book of Revelation, chapter 14 verses 14 through 20. And you’ll get another glimpse of what harvest means, in this context. Hear these words from God. “Then I looked, and there was a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like Son of man with a golden crown on his head and a sharp sickle in his hand. Another angel came out of the temple calling with a loud voice to the one who sat on the cloud, ‘use your sickle and reap for the hour to repress come, because the harvest of the earth is fully ripe’. So the one who sat on the clouds swung his sickle over the earth and the earth was reaped.”
Here in context, we know that we’re not just talking about wheat or barley. We’re talking about persons. We’re talking about ethnos. We’re talking about spirits are talking about eternities. Where does the book of Ruth come into all of this? The book of Ruth is a piece of scripture found in the First Testament where it is customary in Jewish services to read the book of Ruth in its entirety during the festival of Shavuot. And so that’s why we’re reading it today. Because it would have been, it’s important for us to remember that Jesus was Jewish. Paul was Jewish. And not just that they were Jewish, but that by all accounts, both biblical and extra biblical, we have every reason to believe that the early followers of Jesus and Jesus himself were Torah observant Jews. It’s crucial for us to recognize that in a context in which we often think of the New Testament as superseding the Old Testament, it’s why we use those terms old and new. But they come with a sort of judgment that isn’t borne out in the text. Jesus never read the New Testament.
Paul didn’t necessarily know he was writing the New Testament, the Bible for these individuals, was the Jewish handbook. And Jesus talks over and over and over again about the centrality of the Torah about how not even an ioda will be taken away from the Torah base. He is not abolishing the Torah, but fulfilling the Torah. What does that mean for us? As outsiders, a book, like Ruth is particularly meaningful to me as a Gentile follower of Jesus on a day like today, because Ruth is ethnically immobile, she’s allotted as a Jew by choice. We don’t hear many stories about conversion to Judaism. In the same way that we do hear about conversions to Christianity, or Islam. Judaism is considered an ethno religion, historically, you became a Jew by being born a Jew.
Because Jews historically have a different theology of the afterlife that doesn’t say you must convert to be saved. There isn’t the same sort of emphasis on converting others, still, we see over and over again, in the Hebrew Scriptures, people who are attracted to this monotheism to this ethic, and they are referred to as the righteous Gentiles or that God fears or in the case, Ruth, a convert who becomes a Jew by choice. It’s interesting, though, that the name of this book is the book of Ruth, when it is actually Naomi who is the catalyst of the story. Naomi’s husband dies, then both her sons die. Even in our context, this would be sad. This would be difficult. But oftentimes, we read the scriptures, whether it’s in the Hebrew Scriptures or the second testament, and we often project our cultural, socio-economical understandings context onto the biblical narrative would be dangerous for now. Not only would she not have those to carry on her lineage, her legacy, but her temporal circumstances, the well being of her life here on Earth, as she lives would be drastically hindered, negatively impacted by the fact that there are no men in life.
So Ruth, Ruth, her daughter engages in this, and Ruth, through her boldness, through her loyalty through her obedience she saves… Ruth eventually gives birth to Obed who in turn becomes David’s grandfather from Jesse. Again, we think about this a lot in the time of Advent, more than we do in a time of Pentecost, this idea of the lineage of Jesus that Jesus comes from the line of David, of Jesse. We go back to this Moabite and Ruth and it’s a comfort for somebody, again, like me, who is a Gentile follower of Jesus, as somebody like me, who is ethnically, of mixed race background and this idea that in Jesus, that He is a person of mixed race background, that he is somebody that’s not purely Jewish. But it’s important that we remember these heroes and heroines, these matriarchs and patriarchs of our faith All throughout. In Ruth 3, which is where we find ourselves today, we see the scheme and I’m appreciating that I could see some faces, but couldn’t see all of them as brother Nate was reading the passage, but it’s a peculiar passage. It’s just scandalous, even for us 1000s of years later.
What Ruth does breaks social norms. Cultural differences. Again, just as we’re reminded with Naomi that different understandings of gender and sexuality that were present here in this context cannot be understated, cannot be overlooked. This is a risky, risky thing that Ruth is doing. She risks her reputation. She risks her bodily autonomy. She risks own imaginable embarrassment, and pain, out of her love and devotion to her mother-in-law. Let that sink in. Who are you sold out for in that way? Who are you willing to put everything on the line for? Later in the second Testament, we read this verse that greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for friends, Ruth could have lost her life.
Even if danger wasn’t a part of the equation, think of the humility, that is a part of it. For whom in your life, are you willing to go lay at the foot of the bed for? I hope you’re thinking contemplating that might be easy for Brethren. We wash each other’s feet. But as we discussed on Lovefeast or Maundy Thursday, this year, our understanding of feet washing and our understanding of feet washing in this context are frankly, radically different. Are you willing to sneak into the bed of someone after they have a well imbibed and well fed, uncover their dirty feet and lay with them. It also makes us question what is marriage?
Again, difference in context, as somebody that is a counselor to married couples, or already engaged couples more often than not, as a pastor. It’s always amazing to me, the stories that people tell of how they imagine married life to be and often they come from Disney or from romantic comedies, and we forget what marriage is in this context. And frankly, more conservative friends among us, too, when we think about human sexuality and we hear people talk about we need to get back to a biblical understanding of marriage, well the understanding of marriage here and Ruth is a challenging, it’s certainly not a Protestant, American understanding of marriage, right? In this text, we’re not talking about romance. Right? This is not this is not a romantic passage. We may think of marriage as power. And that’s not even quite what it is here, though we do see that more in ancient times. If you’re somebody that’s interested in medieval history and you watch media around the Middle Ages, you’ll notice that oftentimes women or you that I should take a step back valuable women, most often young girls were used as a way of forging alliances, right?
But in this, we’re talking about safety. You may have missed it because of the language the way that it was translated in the biblical passage earlier, it uses this phrase, next of kin or kinsmen, near kinsmen. When we think of next of kin, what do we think of? We think of being in the hospital or being sick. if I’m ill, and something happens to me, my wife is my next of kin, right? Or perhaps if I had a sibling, my, my brother would be the next of kin. Right? Your children might be your next of kin. Why is that important in the context of marriage, in Old Testament, in First Testament and Hebrew marriage? Well, the elaborate laws tell us that you must take your relatives, your widow relatives, your single relatives, as brides. Why would that be the case? Because it would have been dangerous for Ruth to be without a man. It would have been dangerous for Naomi to be without a man. Oftentimes, when we read, even in the second testament, some of Paul’s writings that get to be, or at least writings attributed to Paul, that seem to be relatively restricted, or restrictive toward women, we forget how radically progressive you could even say, much of this was for its time.
I want to look at Ruth as a type for another kind of marriage. I’m going to read to you another passage, again, from the book of Revelation, this one chapter 19. And it’s talking about rejoicing in heaven for another kind of marriage. And I want you to listen to these words carefully, and see the connections. Here these words:
“After this, I heard what seemed to be a loud voice of a great multitude in Heavens saying ‘Hallelujah, salvation and glory and power to our God, for His judgments are true, and just. He has judged the great whore who corrupted the earth with her prostitution, and he has avenge on her the blood of his servants.’ Once more, they said, ‘Hallelujah. The smoke goes up from her forever and ever, and 24 elders, and the four living creatures fell down and worshipped God, who is seated on the throne saying, ‘Amen and hallelujah.’ And from the throne came a voice saying, ‘praise our God, all of his servants, and all who fear Him small and great.’ Then I heard what seemed to be the voice of a great multitude, like the sound of many waters, and like the sound of mighty Thunder, Thunder peels crying out ‘hallelujah. For the Lord. God, the Almighty reigns, let us rejoice and exult in give Him the glory for the marriage of the Lamb has come and his bride has made herself ready.’ To her, it is been granted to be clothed with fine linen, bright and pure for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints. And the angel said to me, ‘write this: blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.’ And he said to me, “these are true words of God, that I fell down at his feet to worship him.’ But he said to me, ‘You must not do that. I am a fellow servant with you and your brothers and sisters who hold the testimony of Jesus worship God, for the testimony of Jesus is the spirit of prophecy.'”,
Friends, the boldness here, do we understand what excitement there is around a wedding? Do we understand the humility that is needed to understand these connections about being at one’s feet whether laying in the bed, at the foot of a bed of a strange relative, a distant relative, or lying down, prostrating oneself the feet of an angel. Perhaps you’re thinking of your own wedding? Did you like Chelsea now you did in our wedding wash each other’s feet? Brethren are peculiar people. But followers of Jesus are called to this. Followers of Ya are called to this. And so at the center of all of this is. The angel says, “do not bow to me.
I am likewise, a worshipper of Jesus.” What does it mean for us to put God at the center of all that we do? In the passage talks of Ruth’s act as an act of kindness, the Hebrew word that’s translated and we see all throughout this chapter goes the whole way back. It’s first used in connection to Mount Sinai, and it’s connected to a word for loyalty. Are we kind to one another sisters, brothers, nonbinding binary sibling, so we loyal to one another? And what does it mean to be kind? What does it mean to be loyal? What, for that matter, does it mean to have humility to lie at God’s feet?
Are you lying at God’s feet? Or are you ready to propose? Can we sit with that friends? Do we expect only it always? For God to be chasing after us? To leave the 99 for us and praise God he doesn’t.
But is there a place for us to lie down God’s feet and have the audacity to propose, the audacity to give ourselves. We are the bride of Christ, men, women alike, we are the bride of Christ. We are in this instance, in the place of Ruth, who goes against cultural norms and proposes. It’s still in this day, 2022, relatively uncommon for women to propose, particularly in heterosexual relationships for a woman to propose to a man. How much more so would that have been peculiar in the time of the first testament of the Hebrew Scriptures? Still, Ruth knows that there’s nothing else better for her for her family, that this is God ordained. And so she goes, risks everything. Are we willing to risk everything for this god? I don’t know. If you’ve ever proposed before I proposed it was a certainly nerve wracking experience for me. But in the midst of that risk, even when you’re with someone that you know, is going to say yes, it’s still like, oh my gosh, we’re doing this are they really gonna say it? Still, we know with certainty, that God will say, Yes, God is always on the other side. Ready, eager, waiting for us to come home. I want to transition to the end by looking at this concept of rest.
This concept of trust. It says Boaz. It said later, in the book of Ruth, :sit still my daughter. Sit still my daughter.” And I find this to be an incredibly illuminating verse, particularly in this time of interim ministry, as we discern, and we’ve vision. It reminds me of a Song of Solomon. And you may have if you’ve heard the Song of Solomon read, if you’ve read it yourself, you are familiar that there’s a phrase that’s repeated over and over again, in multiple chapters in the text that says do not arouse or awaken love until it’s time. Do not arouse or awaken love until it’s time. One of the things that I find most compelling about the story of Ruth is that tells us that it’s okay to Get ahead of a person but not okay to get ahead of God. I’m gonna say that one more time, because it’s the most crucial thing I think for you to understand from this passage.
If you’re a note taker taker. It’s okay to get ahead of a person, but not okay to get ahead of God. What Ruth does is presumptuous, it’s dangerous. She certainly gets ahead of Boaz. But she’s able to do this because she hasn’t gotten ahead of God. This is a God ordained thing. And so we have to ask ourselves, in this time of discernment of this scary and exciting time to be the church, are we willing to take risks? And for some of us, we may be like, “It’s not my thing. I’m not. I’m not I’m not a risk taker.” For others, we may be overly anxious, overly eager to take these risks. And so the follow up question is, are we willing to discern as well? Not everything that we want to do that’s edgy is prophetic. Because prophecy comes from God. And everything that we want to do this progressive is prophetic. It must come from God first for it to be so.
It’s one thing if we’re at a Ad Council meeting, or we’re having a debate among the pastors and one of us wants to get ahead of the other person. But if we get ahead of God, our plans won’t succeed. And so this Pentecost I’m asking are we able to be still in wait enough to know what God is calling us to do. To not arouse or awaken love until it’s time. But friends once it’s time, right, once it’s time are we ready to have a Pentecostal boldness? Are we ready to do audacious things like speak in tongues? Are we ready to believe in fire and to live our faith as people of the flame? Are you ready? God I hope so. Excited to see what God does in tempering us and equipping and nudging us towards boldness.
Will you pray with me? Gracious and loving God, we thank you for this opportunity to look deeper into your Word, look deeper into ourselves, and hopefully look deeper into your face. God we are grateful for our spiritual ancestors. We thank you for the Moabites we thank you for the Israelites, we thank you for root. For David, for Jesus, we thank you for those who have come before us. We thank you for giving us this opportunity in many locations to have our hearts turn towards you. Not just as individuals, but as a collective. we pray humbly and boldly, Lord, that you would help us in our discernment both as individual followers, as families of followers, and as a church congregational ecclesia family to know what it is you’re calling us to do. Not just to debate what it is, but once we are of one mind to go forth living out that call you have given us. God, put a fire within us under us, behind us, before us that we might go and do great things. remembering that when Jesus spoke of Pentecost he said that the disciples would do even greater things…may we believe it and may we live as if we do. We pray these things in the name of Jesus, the Christ, the son and our savior, Amen.