You Are a Part of God's Family!
A sermon based on Ruth 4:13-17
Sunday, January 8, 2012 – Epiphany (Celebration)
The young woman found her prince charming! The young farmer was loving, kind, and compassionate and faithful to the Lord. They soon married and started a family of two small boys and the woman thought she had found heaven on earth.
But then, the economy plunged. Famine struck and the crops wouldn't grow. In a desperate attempt to survive they up and moved to another country where things weren't so bad. And they struggled on as best they could.
And then, her whole world was shaken when her husband died. She was thankful the boys were grown now and could take care of her—physically and emotionally. They both married fine local girls and began to start new lives in that foreign country, but while they were still young, both of her sons died too.
She had lost everything. She lost her money. She lost the farm. She lost her family. And she began to lose hope. All she had left were her two daughters-in-law and she knew she couldn't support them. And she couldn't expect them to support her. She wasn't really their mother. She was a foreigner. They'd soon remarry and get on with their lives. But not her. What would happen to her, only God knew.
Of course, this is a true story. The young woman was Naomi, no longer so young. Remarriage was out of the picture. But one of those two daughters-in-law we know well. Ruth refused to leave Naomi's side, but would return home with her and would care for her.
And in this amazing story of Naomi and Ruth and Boaz, we see how God in his grace provided a family… for Naomi, for Ruth and for Boaz, and… through that family, he provided a family for us. Through that family tree of Naomi and Ruth came the Savior—a Savior born, not just for Jews, but for Moabite women like Ruth, for German people like me, and for all of us Gentiles (that is, non-Jews). Through that Savior, God brings us into his family.
Listen to the happy ending for Naomi, recorded for us in Ruth 4:13-17…
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. 14 The women said to Naomi: "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! 15 He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth." 16 Then Naomi took the child, laid him in her lap and cared for him. 17 The women living there said, "Naomi has a son." And they named him Obed. He was the father of Jesse, the father of David.
I. Excluded By Our Sin
At one point it seemed to Naomi that she really had lost everything. She lost her family, her finances, her home, her property, and her hope. She was in such despair that she changed her name to Mara (which means "bitter") saying God had made her life so bitter for her.
And though we're not told that she committed any particular sin to prompt such actions from God, the truth is that her struggles were a result of sin. The famine may very well have been an act of God's judgment against a rebellious Israel in this time of the Judges. Death is a result of sin. And no matter what the cause, did Naomi really have any right to complain against God? She was a sinner and as such, she deserved hell. She deserved to lose more than her family, but also her eternity.
Likewise, Ruth (who's sometimes perceived as the heroine of the story) had no part in God's kingdom. She wasn't an Israelite, but a Moabite—from Moab, named after the patriarch born to Abraham's nephew Lot and Lot's daughter. They were not a godly people, enemies of Israel, constantly fighting against them. As a Moabite, Ruth had no right to be a part of Israel's family and as a sinner she too deserved to be excluded and left out of God's family.
And friends, harsh as it may sound, it's the truth that we deserve to be left out too. We all know the feeling of being excluded from a group, of being left out, and left sitting on the sidelines. And I think we all know what it's like for that exclusion to be, at least in part, our own fault.
Susan was having fun with some friends and made a few jokes about Carla and her weight problem. Little did she know that Carla had just come up behind her and heard every word. Not only was she was she excluded from Carla's party that weekend where all their friends would be, not only did she lose a friend in Carla, who'd been nothing but kind to her, but worst of all, Susan knew it was her fault. She deserved to be left out.
And, so do we…
We weren't born into God's family, but were by nature enemies, hostile to God in a way much worse than any Moabite ever was to an Israelite. (Romans 8:7) We wanted no part of God's family and nothing to do with him. And that attitude evidenced itself in our thoughts and actions, and all too often that sinful nature that's so hostile to God still resurfaces and shows itself in our lives by the selfish things we continue to think and do…
Our selfishness not only splinters families and causes problems in our relationships with one another, but they separate us from our God. For our grumbling against God for letting life be more bitter than we'd like even though when we deserve so much worse, we should be left out of God's family and excluded from God's heaven for the things we've said and done and thought toward him. After all, whatever we do to the least of God's children, we do to him. (Matthew 25:40,45)
But thank God that like Naomi, and like Ruth, even though we deserve to be excluded from God's family by our sin, we're included in God's family by his grace…
II. Included By God's Grace
Can you imagine how much Ruth's life had changed? The change from Moabite to Israelite must have been quite a change! Though she was once an enemy of this people, she now became one of these people. And now as she had promised Naomi, Naomi's people became her people, Naomi's God became her God! And not only was she now an Israelite, but the great-grandmother of King David and the ancestress of Christ! Turning from the gods of Moab to the true God also meant she, who was once excluded, was now included in the promise. She too had a Savior in her own descendant.
And imagine what a blessed change Naomi had! She went from having no family, but Ruth, to having a kinsman-redeemer—a son-in-law who would provide for her and care for her and sustain her life in her old age. She went from having lost two sons, to getting a son again (even though it wasn't hers naturally, but only by the law). And what joy she must have had to hold that baby boy in her arms and to become his nurse! How God brought life back to Naomi who had been so surrounded by death!
And through Ruth's descendant, Jesus, what blessings are ours! We who were once excluded from God's family by our sins, are included by his grace! Through Ruth's son, Obed, came his son, Jesse, who had King David. And from King David and that royal line came our kinsman-redeemer. "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer!" And Jesus has become famous throughout Israel and throughout the world!
A kinsman-redeemer was one who would rescue and defend his relatives when they would be forced to become slaves, give up their land, or lose their inheritance. He must be a blood relative, able to pay the price of redemption, willing to redeem his relative, and must be free himself.
Jesus became our blood relative. He became like us in every way that he might rescue us and buy us out of slavery. He was able to pay the price of redemption and he was the only one able since the blood of God is the only price big enough to pay for the world's sin. And he was willing to redeem us at any cost sacrificing his very life even for us Gentiles, who by nature aren't a part of the promise!
Do you remember how the book of Matthew begins? It has that long list of names that may look like the credits at the end of a movie. But in that long list Matthew makes it a point to include the names of a few women. Ruth, the Moabitess, is included in God's plan of salvation. Rahab, probably the Caananite prostitute from Jericho, is listed as the mother of Boaz. Tamar, the daughter-in-law of Judah by whom he had Perez is listed there. All are included though they're sinners and outsiders and have no right to be in the line of the Savior. Yet there they are—included by God's grace.
And what comfort we find in that list of names. Because they're included, we know that we too, sinners and outsiders, who ought to be excluded by right, can be included as well. We're included not by anything we've done, but purely by God's grace!
And just like Boaz did for Ruth and Naomi, our kinsman-redeemer has renewed our lives and continues to sustain us even beyond our old age—into eternity. Through him, we who were once left out of God's family and excluded from God's heaven, have a family again. God is our Father. We who were once orphaned have been adopted and grafted in to the family. Christ is our brother. We who were once alone have a kinsman-redeemer! Life has been restored! We are sustained!
And now we have opportunity to bring others into the family. Those who are orphaned because of their sin—we can share with them how their sin has been removed by their kinsman-redeemer too, how they can be included, how they can be a part of God's family with us. We have opportunity to "Tell how the Father sent his Son to save us. [To] Tell of the Son, who life and freedom gave us. [To] Tell how the Spirit calls from ev'ry nation His new creation." (CW #556, v.4) "Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a kinsman-redeemer!" In Jesus, who's included us in his family, amen!