November 7, 2021

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

“Hatching Plans & Taking Action”

This morning’s reading from the Book of Ruth incudes a couple more short sections from the story of Naomi and Ruth that we began last Sunday.

You may remember that Naomi and her family have been struck by one disaster after another, including first a famine, becoming refugees to a foreign land to survive, and then the deaths of all the men in the family, leaving the women alone and vulnerable as widows in that time and place.

Naomi’s daughter-in-law, Ruth, shows her faithfulness and courage when she returns with Naomi to Judah. It is likely the more tenuous choice for Ruth’s future, but her presence may give Naomi a chance at survival.

Chapter two, which the lectionary skips, tells of the women arriving in Naomi’s homeland and relying on the kindness of a relative who allows them to glean grain from the edges of his field. For the time being, they are okay.

One might pause and give thanks to God for this blessing, but their situation is still very precarious.

But rather than just waiting, praying, giving thanks for their daily bread, and hoping that God will continue to provide for their needs, Naomi hatches a plan.

Their best hope for a future would be for Ruth to be married to a relative of Naomi. That would secure Ruth’s future along with Naomi’s, and add the possibility of children and descendants too.

Naomi says to Ruth: “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you.” And then she directs Ruth to go to Boaz, her relative who has already been helping them, and make it clear that Ruth wants him to marry her.

What follows is an odd scene in which Ruth visits Boaz in the barn at night where he is sleeping after a long day of harvesting. Naomi tells Ruth to uncover his feet (a gentle way of waking him up), and then to lie down at his feet, and wait for him to tell her what to do.

It’s a bold and risky move that could make Ruth very vulnerable if Boaz wanted to take advantage of her, but he doesn’t. He is startled awake. She makes what one commentator called “the least romantic proposal of marriage ever,” and he indicates that he is willing to accept.

To make sure that the plan doesn’t back-fire, he needs to check with one other man who is more closely related to Naomi than Boaz is himself. But after he does that, ensuring that man does not want to marry Ruth, he is ready to make it happen.

The lectionary skips over a lot of those details, but they’re interesting to read and see how Levirite marriage worked in those days. It seems like a very strange practice to 21st century people, but it was intended to provide for the welfare of widows. A brother or other closest relative of the man who died would marry the widow – not only to provide for her needs, but to claim any property that her husband owned, and to continue his family line.

Our reading today concluded with the last section of Chapter 4 which tells us that Boaz and Ruth did marry, and “the Lord made her conceive, and she bore a son.” And 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!”

Did you notice how the people interpreted what happened to Naomi and Ruth? They gave the credit to God, didn’t they? God made Ruth conceive. God did not leave Naomi without next-of-kin. Thanks be to God!

What strikes me about the story is that in the middle chapter it’s not so obvious that God is at work.

Ruth clung to Naomi, leaving her own land and family in order to go with her mother-in-law back to Judah.

Boaz showed kindness and let the women glean grain from the edges of his field, and instructed his farm workers not to hassle Ruth.

Naomi hatched a plan and took initiative to get a husband for Ruth.

Ruth risked going to Boaz at night, and made her bold proposal that he marry her.

Boaz ensured that a closer relative would not get in the way of the plan, and then took Ruth as his wife, assuring a future for both her and Naomi.

And yet, the women of the community and the author of the Book of Ruth give glory to God for the way things worked out.

But perhaps it serves as a reminder that our lives are lived in the presence and activity of God in the world. When we listen for God’s guiding and hatch plans, and take initiative, our actions may become a participation in what God is doing in our lives and in the world.

Being people of faith does not mean just going to worship, praying, and trusting God to act. But it means participating with God in God’s good purposes in the world.

It means hatching plans, taking initiative, and responding to God’s call to live generous, responsible, creative, and godly lives.

It means taking risks, stepping out in faith, and trusting God to guide us on the right paths.

It means remembering that after we meet Jesus at the Lord’s Table, receiving his body and blood, that we are sent out to actually BE the Body of Christ in the world.

Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz had no idea that their actions, with God’s help, would result in a child that would be the grandfather of King David and the ancestor of Jesus.

I wonder what God will accomplish through us when we begin to hatch plans and take initiative too.