Rev. Leigh Weber May 19, 2019
Ruth Chapter 3
Well, here we are in our third week in this short four-week sermon series on the Book of Ruth that is being paired a bit with our observance of Mental Health Awareness month and what it means to come alongside others in both loyalty and loving kindness. And I suppose if this were a novel or a movie this is where you might say “and the plot thickens.” Theres a lot of back story packed into the first two chapters. Famine in Bethlehem prompts Elimelech, now dead, to take his family, his wife Naomi and his two sons to Moab in search of food. All the men die, leaving Naomi with two Moabite daughters-in-law, one who returns to her family and one who stays with her. The two women have returned to Bethlehem now and Ruth, the Moabite, has been gleaning in the fields in order to feed herself and Naomi.
The landowner Boaz has noticed both Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi and her diligent work in the field and has made provisions both for her to work unbothered by the men and to have extra grain to take home. And it looks like things are turning around a bit for these two women…not what Naomi once had but they are able to survive.
Now, however, with the grain harvest coming to an end, the prospects for future provisions are likely not looking as good. Just like in the previous chapter that we looked at last week, this one begins and ends with Naomi and Ruth at home where Naomi tells Ruth to get cleaned up, go to Boaz in the night and when he lies down, uncover his feet at lay at them. And then, she tells her, he will tell you what to do.
From the lens of 2019, it doesn’t sound like the best scenario but there are two important things that I think we need to remember…first …it’s not 2019 in the story and in this very patriarchal society, women didn’t have rights on their own, only through familial relationships with their fathers or their husbands and that’s just the reality of the social context.
Second thing to remember, or more importantly to unpack, is what really happened, what didn’t happen and what’s left to nuance and innuendo.
Let’s just name it to start………….on the surface, it’s got some serious sexual overtones. And if we stay on the surface that’s pretty much all we see. But it’s a great example of why it’s important to unpack texts, to contextualize them and to look at the deeper reality of what is and isn’t being said. In this case of this story, something pretty bold and empowered is being said by this Moabite widow, a woman whose status is Israel is completely non-existent. She’s not only without a husband or father, she’s also foreign and there is zero obligation to her. To top it off, despite no obvious means, she has committed herself to providing another widow, Naomi.
And, if we look at this scene as merely some physical seduction, we absolutely do no justice to what is really taking place. Despite being told by Naomi, “Do what he tells you,” Ruth takes the initiative to enlist Boaz’ support as redeemer, to be her champion and give her status, ally his power and privilege as a land owning man and raise her social location to one with provision and care…and not only hers but Naomi’s as well.
Despite promising Naomi to do as he says, Ruth takes the initiative and tells him what HE should do, reminding him that he is a redeemer. And, again, it’s important to remember, this is not 2019 and women in this culture do not normally take the initiative and propose to the man. Ruth is being bold; Ruth is claiming agency. Ruth’s proposal has advocacy at its heart. Ruth is claiming her right to be seen.
And Boaz does in fact see Ruth for who she is, loyal, hard-working, pledged to the God of Naomi, or Israel, but she also sees him. She sees him as a Godly man, greeting his workers that way, sharing loving kindness with others, being an agent of God’s goodness around him. And she isn’t wrong. This text today tells us that “she lay at his feet until morning, but (Boaz) got up before one person could recognize another; for he said, “It must not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” He’s already at work protecting her, providing for her honor. And he’s said to her “Be blessed of the Lord…”
It’s a continuation of what we talked about last week, about making space for God’s loving kindness by demonstrating loving kindness ourselves. It’s making space for God’s provision to be realized. Boaz isn’t seeing a Moabite, a marginalized, outcast, enemy…he sees loyalty and faithfulness and dedication…godliness. He sees Ruth. And Ruth sees him.
I was having lunch with a colleague this past week. She shared with me about a seminar she had been to about this kingdom work, the work of becoming the beloved community that God intends for humankind. And we were talking about what it means to people to be seen. I was telling her about our work here on mental health ministries and about the Voice of Vashon interview that Bev and I did a couple of weeks ago. A woman came by later that day while I was still in the office. She introduced herself as having heard the interview and did I have a few minutes. She shared quite a bit and then she told me that she valued that this church was listening. She said, “You guys are listening. You’re seeing the need. Thank you.”
My colleague has had similar experiences. Her congregation is very actively reaching into their community in Burien, encountering folks not used to being seen or heard because of their ethnicity or income or citizenship. She shared that a social worker at the high school near them, who does not define as a person of faith, referred to their church as a safe space. This congregation is intentionally listening to their community, they are taking the time to see and now the community around them sees their church as a safe place.
She had been to a meeting the night before we met and, as we were starting our goodbyes, she said, “I’m excited by what’s going on at Vashon and I want to leave this with you…it’s a Zulu greeting. And it goes like this…’I see you’ and the response is ‘Because I am seen, I am here.’” I see you and because I am seen, I am here. It’s very much like the word, Namaste, the Holy One in me sees the Holy One in you.
Because I am seen, I am here. That’s what Ruth is saying to Boaz. She’s not just doing what he told her. Like Naomi…she says, “Cover me, be my redeemer, see me, acknowledge me, give me a place in your society, let me be here.” This Moabite widow is claiming her right to be seen. And he has made the space for her to feel safe enough to say it, he sees her, he listens to her and that, in turn, empowers her to claim what she needs, to ask for help. “…Do not be afraid,” he tells her, “I will do for you all that you ask, for all the assembly of my people know that you are a worthy woman.” He calls her worthy. And then he protects her honor and sends her back to Naomi with even more.
Boaz is committed to her honor, to being her redeemer. But the text also tells us that there is another that is more closely related. And Boaz has enough honor himself to step out of the way if this person wants to take Ruth in, but he’s prepared and wants to do it himself and, eventually does. He’s that committed to her.
It is all too easy to reduce this text to the innuendo, the physical seduction of a mating dance. But, like I said earlier, that doesn’t do it any justice. The justice is in the seeing, it’s in the commitment to elevating another to a place out of marginalization. The justice is in making space for Ruth and Naomi in the community. The justice is in seeing. I see you. Because I am seen, I am here.
As we continue to step into the work of being the beloved community of God, we’re going to be presented with more and more opportunities to see others, to SEE them, not their circumstances, not their ethnicity or their citizenship, not their mental illness, or any host of other things that define them on a surface level but to see THEM.
That’s our work. To listen. To greet them in the name of God. To make space. To welcome. To see. And, in the name of God, to empower others to say, “Because I am seen, I am here.” And to let them SEE us and allow us to say it too, “Because I am seen, I am here.” Take a moment and look around this room. See each other. And now say this with me, “Because I am seen, I am here.”
This work is not easy. If it were easy, no one would ever feel marginalized. No, this work is actually challenging because it pushes us out of comfort zones and when we are out of our comfort zones, most of us feel and often act very awkward.
The other day I was, once again, ministered to by one of the groups that shares this space with us. I was working in the library cleaning up some things the other day and one of the AA groups was getting started upstairs. If you have ever gone to one of their open meetings, 12 step groups traditionally read through the Serenity Prayer and they also read what is known as the Promises.
As you and I continue to move deeper into this hard work of truly being the beloved community, dealing with our own awkwardness and learning to try again and again…I want to share with you the wisdom that is daily being shared, being lived out, in this building.
From the AA Big Book, these are the promises… If we are painstaking about this phase of our development, we will be amazed before we are half-way through. We are going to know a new freedom and a new happiness. We will not regret the past nor wish to shut the door on it. We will comprehend the word serenity and we will know peace. No matter how far down the scale we have gone, we will see how our experience can benefit others. That feeling of uselessness and self-pity will disappear. We will lose interest in selfish things and gain interest in our fellows. Self-seeking will slip away. Our whole attitude and outlook upon life will change. Fear of people and of economic insecurity will leave us. We will intuitively know how to handle situations which used to baffle us. We will suddenly realize that God is doing for us what we could not do for ourselves.
Are these extravagant promises? We think not. They are being fulfilled among us—sometimes quickly, sometimes slowly. They will always materialize if we work for them.
That’s the work, that’s the holy work of God seeing others and patiently trusting the work of God in them and in you. It’s our work. And it’s the way in which we take our place in God’s love story with humankind. Amen.