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Mosaic Spokane

Insider Trading

Insider Trading

Ruth

November 1, 2015

 

INTRO:  When is the last time you felt like an outsider?  Or maybe we should start at the beginning and ask, “When was the first time you remember feeling like an outsider?” 

            For that answer, most of us have to go back no further than…oh, say…nap time as a toddler…or nursery school? J Maybe kindergarten…or first grade…if you’re memory was slow to develop? 

            Anybody here like feeling like an outsider?  There is something deep inside us, almost written on our DNA, that likes to be on the “inside” of groups of people, whether it’s a family or a fraternity, a school team or a snap-chat conversation. Feeling like you are on the outside looking in is not a feeling most of us go searching for. 

            But the hard truth is that SO many people feel like they are outsiders when it comes to the people of God.  Millions of people will still go to churches across America today where they walk in, have a cup of coffee, sit in a Sunday School class or worship service and walk out, all the while feeling like they are outsiders, not insiders. The hard truth is, some of YOU are feeling like that right now. 

We’re in a passage of Scripture today that is all about someone who really felt like…and was…an outsider to the family of God.  It’s a story about what God did to make them an “insider” and the sometimes hard, sometimes painful process they had to walk in order to become an insider. 

It’s also one of my favorite love stories of the Bible.  It’s about a man called Boaz and a woman called Ruth.  But it’s also about a love story between God and every one of us here today. 

So before we dive into the story, let’s ask God to be an “insider” with us today…and to rid all of us of being or just feeling like “outsiders” in His family.  [PRAY.]

A couple of quick questions before we jump into the book of Ruth. 

  • What is it that makes us feel like “outsiders”? (Answer:  anything that makes us feel awkwardly different—physical features, clothing, language, vocabulary, age, roles, past experiences, hearing loss J, etc.)
  • Despite all the differences that may make us feel like outsiders, there are times when we do feel more like “insiders”. So, what makes us feel like “insiders”? [Group responses.]

If you’re just joining us, we’re working our way through a chronological reading of the Bible called The Story.  It condenses several thousand years of God’s working with people into 31 weeks.  Impressive, no?  J  [Encourage people to purchase the book.]

Today’s Scripture passage is again a whole book, the book of Ruth.  It’s only 4 chapters long and, as love stories go, that’s pretty short.  Ruth is, as you might have guessed, one of the main characters in this story.  Let me introduce you to the others.

Ruth 1 starts off by telling us this book took place “in the days when the judges ruled…” (Ruth 1:1).  Last week we learned about several of those judges, men and women who were very flawed yet sometimes faith-filled people. God chose these unlikely candidates to use in building up his family in history. 

            Verse 1 continues:  “In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land.” 

Question:  What had God already told His people about fruitfulness and famines in the Promised Land? 

Answer:  If they were faithful to worship, serve and obey the Living God, Yahweh, they would be blessed with fruitfulness in the land.  But if they wandered off and served other gods like Baal or Ashtoreth or Molek like we saw they did in Judges, then God would curse the land, bring judgments such as famines and eventually scatter them to other countries. 

            So right out of the shoot here in verse one, the author is giving us a clue the people of God are under the discipline of God.  Part of that discipline involved this particular famine in Israel. 

            Which leads to another questions: When you were a child, and you did something worthy of discipline, how good of an idea was it for you to try running away from mom or dad? J  Yah, I think I tried that once or twice.  But my keen toddler mind quickly figured out that things usually went worse if I tried to run away than if I just stood still and took the discipline that I had rightfully earned. 

            When famine hit the people of God in the Old Testament, what were they to do?  Running to Egypt or Moab was not God’s solution.  Running to God was the right solution. 

APP:  Brothers and sisters, when life is tough and getting tougher, the first place we need to run is towards God, not away.  I’m not saying that every time life is tough it’s because God is disciplining us.  That’s what Job’s “friends” said to him and they were dead wrong.  But whether God is just allowing us to be tested and refined more by troubles or whether He is actually disciplining us for our sin or the sins of those we live around, our response should be the same:  run INTO the arms of God, not away.  Submit to His correction or refining and hold on tightly to Him.  Running from the Almighty never works out well for the runner.  God has this habit of always being wherever we’re running to before we even get there.

Now back to Ruth 1

So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there.

So here is one of God’s “insiders”—an Ephrathite named Elimelek along with his wife and 2 kids.  They are part of the people of God.  Maybe they were very righteous, honest, God-fearing people.  After all, Elimelek’s name means “My God is King.”  They were living in a little town called Bethlehem which literally means “House of Bread.”  Interesting name given that they were experiencing famine. 

But I’m not sure Elimelek’s action of moving his family from Bethlehem to the other side of the Jordan River into essentially another country where there was a fair amount of “bad-blood” between people already was much of a demonstration that God was his King!

Regardless of where their relationship with the Lord was at that time, the ensuing story is pretty difficult for this little family.  Ruth 1:3ff--

3 “Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons.”  That’s sad but at least she has both sons to care for her.

4 “They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth.”  Stop!  Anybody remember any prohibition in God’s word against God’s people marrying people who worship other gods?  (Exodus 34:11-16; Deut. 7:1-4)  Not only had the family run from God’s loving arms in Israel; the parents had let them run into the idolatrous arms of what were effectively pagan women.  But I’m getting sidetracked! 

After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband.  Now the story really has taken a decidedly dark turn for the worse.  In the middle of a pagan culture sit three women, all widows, all at the mercy of a nation whose gods didn’t tell them to take care of widows but instead demanded the sacrifice of infants and involvement in sexual orgies. 

The story goes on to tell us that Naomi got news at some point in this sad story that God “had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them” back in Israel. So she and her two daughters-in-law make preparations to go back to Bethlehem. 

I say “go back” since for Naomi it would be returning to her homeland.  But for her two daughters-in-law, it would be immigrating to a neighboring nation in which they would be the foreigners, the “outsiders” and that as people from a despised and hated ethnic group to most Israelites. 

The rest of chapter 1 is pretty much a dialogue between Naomi and both her widowed daughters-in-law. She encourages them, even pleads with them, to stay in Moab with their families of origin.  One of them, Orpha, finally agrees and, with loud weeping, kisses Naomi goodbye and returns to her family.  But the other, Ruth, makes what is probably THE most beautiful statement of personal commitment and love made to a mother-in-law in all of Scripture…if not all of ancient history.  Ruth 1:16ff-- 16 But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God. 17 Where you die I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me.” 18 When Naomi realized that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her.

To me, the really startling thing about this is that her mother-in-law, Naomi, appears to have grown into a rather bitter old woman.  When she returns to Bethlehem with Ruth and the town’s people start gossiping about them, apparently some folks are having a hard time believing that Naomi is who she claims to be.  Chapter 1, verse 19, tells us that “the women [of Bethlehem] exclaimed, “Can this be Naomi?”  Apparently life had taken its toll on the poor woman. 

So Naomi, I’m imagining with at least a twinge of bitterness, tells them in vs. 20, “Don’t call me Naomi.  Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter.  I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty.  Why call me Naomi?  The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.” 

This isn’t exactly the glowing, positive testimony about God that is intended to win the hearts of outsiders in hopes they will become insiders.  She is obviously in the “blame God” stage of her grief.  Having lost all the men in her life that she had to love, she blames God for having taken them from her.  She engages in SMS, “selective memory syndrome”, as she says “I went away full….”  Well, she had two sons and a husband but she seems to have forgotten WHY she and Elimelek left.  They went away with empty stomachs but apparently full hands and hearts. 

APP:  You know, even when we’re in the middle of life’s “famines”, whatever they be, it is good to remember that not everything is bad.  While Naomi may not have had all the food she wanted, she had a husband and two boys.  That may have felt like just so many more mouths to feed.  But sometimes the things that feel like burdens can actually be some of life’s best blessings. 

  • Does your schooling seem like a burden right now?
  • Does some family member seem like a burden right now?
  • Does the monthly mortgage…or the pressures at work…or uncertainties of health make you feel like there is a hole in your boat and everything is sinking?

Don’t forget to be thankful for the blessings there still are in your life.  None of us are ever completely void of God’s blessings, even in the darkest of times.

Ruth’s response to a rather bitter mother-in-law should also be a reminder that even when we’re struggling with God, God is still striving with us to draw others to himself.  God’s heart is always to make outsiders of His family into insiders.  And even though our testimony and attitude may be pretty weak, God is still calling those near us to become part of His family.

Ruth 1:22 closes out chapter 1 telling us that Naomi and Ruth had arrived just “as the barley harvest was beginning.”  In Israel, that would be spring time.  This was the first of several crops that would be harvested from then into summer. 

So here are Ruth and Naomi, just settling into life in what must have felt like for both of them, a new city.  While Naomi was known to some of the people, Ruth was a total outsider.  In fact, 5 times in 4 chapters Ruth is referenced here as “Ruth the Moabite”. 

Moabites were no real favorites in Israel.  They were actually the descendants of an incestuous relationship between Lot and one of his daughters way back in Genesis 19.  True to the family tree, when we pick up the story again in Numbers 25 where Israel is about to enter the Promised Land, we find that the sexual immorality that Israelite men began engaging in with Moabite women was responsible for a plague that resulted in the death of 24,000 Israelites.  Closer to Ruth’s time, the king of Moab had waged war and subjugated parts of Israel to his rule. 

Ruth must have felt like a woman wearing a burka might feel on the streets of downtown Spokane today.  As word spread about her marriage to a Jewish man and his recent mysterious death, tongues must have wagged as to people talked about this “black widow”.  What her physical features didn’t betray, her accent probably did.  Living as a despised minority and a foreign woman in a land that had been judged for its embrace of foreign women and their gods, Ruth most certainly felt the critical gazes and overheard the cutting gossip directed her way. 

But despite the awkwardness of being a woman in a male-dominated culture, despite the danger of being a single foreign woman in a morally decadent time, Ruth doesn’t sit around in fear, waiting for something good to happen to her.  Instead, she asks Naomi for permission to go glean grain behind the harvesters working in the fields that day. 

This business of “gleaning” was something God had made provision for in the Levitical Law.  Check out Lev. 19:9 and 23:22 for the specifics.  But more importantly, God was very clear that foreign immigrants who chose to worship God and adopt the Law of God as their own were to be treated just like an Israelite.  God multiple times forbid the mistreatment or oppression of foreigners (Ex. 22-23; Lev. 19:34).  In the giving of the Law in Deut. 10, this is what God said to the Israelites:

17 For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes.18 He defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.

APP:  This is probably another sermon for another day, but I’m wondering how much of my personal view of the immigration debate today is really being shaped by my culture and political preferences and how much is being shaped by Scripture.  Yes, there are issues of legal verses illegal immigration.  Yes, the nation of Israel is not the United States of America any more than the God of Israel is the God of most Americans.  And, yes, it’s one thing to desire to assimilate into a culture while it is another to want to overwhelm, dismantle or destroy a culture in which you are the immigrant foreigner.

But there are timeless principles in these passages that do apply to how we as God’s people should be treating those who are poor because they are foreigners.  If God called His people to “love them as yourself”, would He ask less of us as followers of Jesus in a world of immigrants?  

But back to Ruth and her desire to provide for her and her mother-in-law’s need for food.  Ruth takes the proverbial bull by the horns and rides it out to the barley fields around Bethlehem (not literally, of course).  And as she goes, she ends up, as God would have it but unbeknownst to her, in the field of a well-to-do relative of her deceased husband and father-in-law.

The man’s name is Boaz.  From what we can tell, he is older…and eligible.  But apparently his eyesight is fine because he seems to notice Ruth before she notices him! J  So he asks his foreman who she is and is told that she is the Moabites Ruth who asked permission to glean and has been working hard since early morning. 

Boaz strolls over to Ruth and tells her to follow behind his servant girls who are working the fields behind his male servants as they harvest the barley. 

Ruth expresses her gratitude and coyly asks, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”  Obviously her identity as an outsider is what she believes characterizes her most.  But Boaz’s reply reveals more about how he (and God, I think) sees her.  He responds,

“I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.12 May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”

Ladies, are your hearts melting yet?  Can you hear the soft, romantic music playing in the background?  This guy is a stud!  He’s speaking insider blessing over a woman who feels very much like an outsider.  He’s calling on God to bless, reward and protect this woman who had every right to feel like God was against her.  Here she is, a double-outsider: both foreigner and young widow.  Boaz is recognizing her vulnerability and her strength.  He’s honoring her hard work to take care of her mother-in-law, Naomi, while offering her the protection he recognizes she has sought from God himself. 

Here are two people, a man and a woman, who really are fit for each otherNaomi is a woman who, in the midst of her own grief at losing her husband in death, channels her grieving love towards her mother-in-law.  Rather than focusing and brooding on her own problems and predicament, she turns her energies towards caring for someone else, Naomi. 

            And as she does, she runs smack dab into a man whose life is other-oriented as well. Boaz, disregarding the cost to his family business, not only invites Ruth to keep gleaning from his fields; he actually gives her extra from his own harvest.  And he leads her with his blessings in the name of Yahweh of abundance and protection.  These are two good people from very different stations in life, one rich and one poor, but both doing the right things with their lives…and God brings them together in a field outside of Bethlehem. 

APP:  God has a way of blessing people who are doing the right things with their lives.  Everyone, including God’s most obedient children, will have their share of difficulties and suffering in life.  But a portion of life is blessed when we simply do what God has asked His people to do. In this case, both Ruth and Boaz were working.  They were laboring folk.  God wants to bless all of us through work.  Work was meant to be a blessing.  It was in the Garden of Eden.  It will be in the New Heaven and New Earth. 

            This is why we are starting businesses.  This is why we are trying to give people downtown an opportunity to work.  This is why we are always trying to connect God’s people with good work. 

Work changes us.  It blesses us. Work gets us around other people whom we can bless.  Work enables us to be a blessing to those around us.  Good, honest, productive work IS the right thing for God’s people to be doing.  Work itself is part of changing us from outsiders to insiders. 

APP:  There is another lesson in this for us.  Every day God is putting around us people who feel like outsiders to so much of life. 

  • Most people today in America feel like outsiders to the family of God. 80% of Spokane residents feel like outsiders to God’s family.  They walk into a church service feeling like they are walking into someone else’s house.  The furnishing feel odd.  The people sometimes look or dress differently.  We do music where everyone sings.  Where else does that happen in your everyday life?  The lingo and the way we talk sounds strange to them.  Yet still people wander into churches because they are hungry for God’s blessing and protection. 
  • The question is, will we be the Boazes of our day? Will we, week after week, person by person, seek to make outsiders to the family of God insiders? Will we expend our resources so that they can have life-giving spiritual food?  Will we go out of our way to give a blessing to everyone God puts in our path?  Will we invite them to hang out with us as Boaz did to Ruth?  Will we offer them protectionprotective relationships where we don’t harm them and where we don’t allow others to harm them? 
  • And after we’ve welcomed them into God’s family, will we be generous and kind beyond what is required of God? Will we give them places to work, jobs where they can start over if they’ve failed? 

ILLTom & Susan Bates—they’ve lived and modeled this to so many of us here at Mosaic.  Not only have they employed many of you when others wouldn’t give you a second look.  They’ve invited you into their home and into their lives.  Tom planted most of his garden so he could feed you and others.  And some years…perhaps most years…they’ve taken home less salary than they paid many of their employees.  They’ve modeled for us God’s heart to make outsiders insiders. 

ILL:  Pioneer Pathway (Derick & Zoe) or Southside Senior Living (Alfred) outreaches—I’ve watch these 3 aviation students who are as taxed and pressured as much or more than most college students I know (and most of us who are older adults) give themselves selflessly to love and bless people who feel very much like outsiders.  In the last couple of months, two of the women in Alfred’s group passed away.  And I know that the time they spent in that Bible study group was the favorite time of their week.  And yesterday I watched as about 4 of you just loved on the residents of Pioneer Pathways at simply a Halloween party yesterday afternoon. 

ILL:  I could just as easily talk about the Mosaic Bike Shop and the 10 or 12 of you who are getting to know downtown residents by name as you work on bikes together. Or I could talk about Changing Lives recovery ministry that is doing just that with several dozen people.  (One woman yesterday at Pioneer Pathways proudly told me, “I go to Mosaic!”  Since I didn’t recall seeing her on Sunday mornings, I asked “When?”  She happily replied, “To your 3:00 service on Sundays.”  Her church is Changing Lives!)

            I hope over the next year or two we’ll be able to say the same thing about a downtown youth center and a coffee shop or perhaps a foster child visitation site

            I’m SO blessed to see so many of you living out this passion of God’s heart week after week in these ministries.  And I want to challenge all of us, especially those who may not be able to think of some “outsiders” to God’s family who you are working and praying to make “insiders”:  join the fun!  Volunteer in one of these ministries!  Don’t waste your life watching TV or sitting around the apartment feeling sorry for yourself. Ask God to grow your heart for people currently outside God’s family looking in.   

Life for the people of God is to be all about helping outsiders to God’s kingdom become insiders.  Because that has and continues to be the heart of our Father. 

            And in case you were wondering, God doesn’t just bring outsiders into the fringes of his family.  Nobody becomes a distant or second-class family member in God’s family.  Two weeks ago we saw how God took a prostitute named Rahab from a city destined for destruction (Jericho) and not only made her part of the people of God in Israel; He made her part of the family line of David…which means she was actually in the Messiah Jesus’ family lineage as well.  Talk about being an insider!     

APP:  So I think we need to ask ourselves, “What am I really doing to follow God’s heart of making outsiders to His family insiders?”  It is so easy to push this to the back burner…to just not think about God’s heart for people feeling like outsiders to His family. 

So I want us to stop and ask God to speak to us about what He wants us to be doing to make sure outsiders become insiders in His family…in our city…in our lifetime.  

[Time of listening to God speak.]

Well, pretty much the rest of the story of Ruth is all about the details that happened to make Ruth Boaz’s wife.  It’s a beautiful foreshadowing of how Jesus is making His church His Bride.  It’s not a perfect picture because Boaz is a little slow on the uptake whereas Jesus has always been leading the pursuit of every one of us.  Ruth engages in a culturally correct and acceptable petition of Boaz to become her “kinsman redeemer.”  One night while Boaz is sleeping at the threshing floor after a long day of winnowing the barley, she lays down at his feet…in the dead of night…as a sign she is making a humble request for him to extend his protection and care over her. 

            Boaz, startled awake in the middle of the night, tells her that there is someone else in the family tree that is ahead of him in terms of being kinsman redeemer.  But he promises to remedy the problem ASAP.  And the very next day he does just that by securing the right to buy the property of her deceased husband and take her as his wife.  And so she enters the Messiah’s family line and becomes the Great Grandmother of King David.  God loves making outsiders insiders!

APP:  Have you moved from being an outsider to God’s family to being an insider?  [Call to faith in Jesus Christ, our eternal Kinsman Redeemer.]

APP:  Who is God putting on your heart today to sacrifice for so they can become an insider in His great family?

APP:  Is there a ministry God wants you to volunteer in so that you can help more “outsiders” become “insiders”?   

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