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Ruth

A Four-Week Series for Ascension and Pentecost

The Jewish people have a practice of reading the book of Ruth during the Festival of Weeks (Exodus 34:22), which takes place fifty days after Passover and commemorates God giving the law to Moses on Mount Sinai. The Festival of Weeks (or Shavuot) is also known as Pentecost. The people of God who gathered in Jerusalem for the Pentecost recorded in Acts 2 would have heard the story of Ruth.

It is with this in mind that we turn to Ruth during this season in the church year. The story told in the book of Ruth is one of redemption. It is a story about the surprising ways God moves to bring redemption and ultimately God’s power and faithfulness to provide for God’s people.

Ascension Day

Ruth 1: God’s Faithfulness and Provision

Call to Worship

Psalm 126 (NIV)

When the Lord restored the fortunes of Zion, we were like those who dreamed.
Our mouths were filled with laughter, our tongues with songs of joy.
Then it was said among the nations,
“The LORD has done great things for them.”
The LORD has done great things for us, and we are filled with joy.

Restore our fortunes, Lord, like streams in the Negev.
Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy.
Those who go out weeping, carrying seed to sow, will return with songs of joy, carrying sheaves with them.

Sermon Notes

The first chapter of the book of Ruth is framed by images of famine and harvest. From the perspective of history we see how God’s provision for Naomi via the faithfulness of her foreign daughter-in-law Ruth reflects the character of God. But it would be a mistake to brush past the context of loss within which we meet Naomi and Ruth in this text.

For years, the fields in Naomi’s homeland, Israel, had been empty, with little promise of bearing crops. In this chapter we read that this is what drove Naomi’s family away from their homeland years ago. But with deaths of the men in the family, the sole providers, Naomi and Ruth find themselves alone, with little hope for survival. Still burdened by their grief, these women are in dire need of means to live, as we can gather from Naomi’s testimony in verses 20–21. It looks as if it might be the end of the story for Naomi and Ruth. But it is precisely at this point that we find God writing a new story.

Readers are not offered much insight into the relationship between Naomi and Ruth, but we shouldn’t assume that Ruth’s famous pledge of loyalty to Naomi means there was strong affection between them. Ruth chose to bind herself to Naomi, to intertwine their welfare and their future hope, but if she had thought twice about it, she might not have made the same decision. But it turns out that it was the right decision. Because while Naomi is certainly discouraged, she still has faith that God is in control.

Preaching this text on Ascension Day provides an opportunity to connect the dots between the faith Naomi held and the faith the disciples needed on Ascension Day. The ascension was bittersweet for Jesus’ disciples. Practically speaking, the ascension meant that Jesus would no longer be with them each day. In his absence, they waited to see what God would do next and to learn the meaning behind Jesus’ parting words to them.

Naomi was looking for meaning as well. She doesn’t find it right away, but the story that God is writing for her and Ruth would demonstrate God’s enduring faithfulness and outstanding provision. The ascension of Christ demonstrates those same things. The ascension means that Christ is sitting at the right hand of God intervening for us—a critical means of God’s provision in our lives. While God moves in mysterious ways, and although God’s will frequently eludes us, we have the gift of faith and the knowledge of Christ’s saving grace to give us hope as we wait for what God is going to do next.

Psalm Reading

Psalm 93

New Testament Reading

Acts 1:1–10

Songs

“You Are Good” Houghton, LUYH 577
“When God First Brought Us Back (Psalm 126)” Daw, LUYH 55
“Rejoice, the Lord is King” Wesley, LUYH 224, GtG 363, PsH 408

Idea

Invite a refugee or an immigrant in your congregation to share one of his or her gifts during the morning service—a piece of music, Scripture, or a brief testimony.

Pentecost

Ruth 2: God’s Power Made Alive in Us

Call to Worship

based on Ephesians 1:15–23

People of faith in the Lord Jesus,
Come, remember, and see what God has done
and is doing in the world today!
Open the eyes of our heart, O God.
Reveal the hope to which you have called us.

Holy people of God, through our risen Lord Jesus Christ,
the power of God is at work within us, moving among us in worship today.
Rule in our minds, O God.
Empower us to follow you with courage.

With the same strength that raised Christ from the dead
and seated him at the right hand of God in the
heavenly realms,
God rules all things with mercy and power and grace.
Move us, O God, to respond to the fullness of your mercy
with all of our soul and strength.

Grace, mercy, and peace to you
from God the Father who created you,
God the Son who has saved you,
and God the Holy Spirit who empowers and equips you
for every good work in God’s name.
Amen.
—Rev. Shannon Jammal-Hollemans

Sermon Notes

Naomi and Ruth have returned to Naomi’s home, and now Ruth gets to work. When Ruth offers to go glean for food, Naomi encourages her. Seemingly by chance, she ends up in the field of Boaz, a wealthy relative of Naomi. Boaz, a man of faith, takes notice of Ruth. He has heard about what Ruth has done for Naomi and offers to protect Ruth from the harassment and violence vulnerable women often found in the fields. Ruth is overwhelmed by his generosity.

But Boaz goes even further. He invites Ruth to eat with him at mealtime. He tells his harvesters to let her glean among them and even to pull out extra for her. It is clear that Boaz is captivated with the young Moabite. Whether it was her physical beauty or her character or a combination of both, Boaz sees something he likes in Ruth and wants her to stay near him as long as possible.

When Ruth returns with the bounty she has harvested, Naomi notes immediately that for Ruth to take home this kind of haul, a man must have been involved. And she was right. Ruth tells her about the favor Boaz showed to her, to Naomi’s delight. Naomi instructs Ruth to continue working in the fields of Boaz for her own safety. It is interesting that Naomi did not mention this to Ruth before she went to glean in the fields. Perhaps Naomi thought harassment would be inevitable no matter where Ruth went. But now that they have discovered the favor that Boaz is willing to offer Ruth, they will most certainly take him up on it.

We must not forget the person whose actions make this provision possible: Ruth.

Ruth, the Moabite.
Ruth, the outsider.
Ruth, the widow.

God provides for Ruth and Naomi because Ruth did what needed to be done. She courageously crossed cultures. She assumed a posture of humility. She worked hard. And her courage and hard work is noticed by Boaz, a man of faith who chose not to take advantage of Ruth, but to provide for her. The Spirit demands that as the people of God we, like Ruth, obediently and courageously cross cultures. God is a faithful provider, and God’s provision comes in mysterious and surprising ways. On Pentecost Sunday, we’d do well to note the surprising ways God works in and among people to provide.

Psalm Reading

Psalm 104:1–4

New Testament Reading

Romans 8:14–17

Songs

“Come, Now Is the Time to Worship” Doerksen, LUYH 526
“God Is Here” Green and Ten Harmsel, LUYH 246, GtG 409, PsH 516
“Sizohamba naye/We Will Walk with God” Swaziland traditional, LUYH 931

Idea

Put an announcement in the bulletin asking people to wear red, orange, and yellow on Pentecost Sunday to create a visual expression in worship of how the power of God is at work among us.

Trinity Sunday

Ruth 3: God’s Unity in Diversity

Call to Worship

based on the Nicene Creed

People of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit—
who is the creator and sustainer of your life?
Our one God, the Father Almighty,
Maker of heaven and earth.

People of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit―
who is the source of your salvation?
Our Lord Jesus Christ, the only Son of God,
begotten from the Father before all ages,
God from God, Light from Light,
true God from true God,
begotten, not made; of the same essence as the Father.

People of the Triune God—Father, Son, and Holy Spirit―
who is the sole originator of your strength?
The Holy Spirit, the Lord, the giver of life.
He proceeds from the Father and the Son,
and with the Father and the Son is worshiped and glorified.
Amen.

—Rev. Shannon Jammal-Hollemans

Sermon Notes

The scene that unfolds between Ruth and Boaz on the threshing room floor is filled with innuendo and ambiguity, making it a challenging passage for preachers. Decisions have to be made about how deeply to delve into these intricacies, but there are some insights from this scene that should not be ignored.

The structure of chapter 3 is the same as chapter 2, so differences between the two are important to note, such as the setting (in the open in chapter 2 but in private in chapter 3) and the timing (from the barley harvest to threshing and winnowing the barley). In chapter 2, Ruth’s identity as a Moabite is noted several times, but there is no mention of Ruth’s foreign identity in chapter 3. The frame for the events in this chapter is the relationship between Ruth and Naomi.

The scene on the threshing room floor is an opportunity for Ruth and Naomi to see what kind of man Boaz really is an honorable one or dishonorable one. It is important to point out that his response to Ruth’s actions could have been very different, with very different consequences, making his response here critical. What unfolds is an image of God’s redemption reflected by what Boaz offers Ruth when she seeks it.

Ruth’s status as an outsider is not a central part of this chapter, but her actions are. Throughout the Scriptures we see diversity in the people God calls to achieve God’s purposes. This diversity is not by happenstance, but reflective of the diversity of our triune God. The diversity of God, the Scriptures, and the world that God created demonstrate that diversity is not an obstacle to overcome or a threat to our unity, but a gift to building unity in Christ alone.

Psalm Reading

Psalm 47

New Testament Reading

2 Corinthians 5:11–21

Songs

“Dios está aquí/God Is Here Today” Mexico, LUYH 522
“Sing to the Lord of Harvest” Monsell, LUYH 398, PsH 458
“In Christ There Is No East or West” Perry, LUYH 268, GtG 317, PsH 540

Idea

Ask three people in the congregation to serve as Scripture readers for the morning’s text(s). These three people should be from different generations, both men and women, and if possible should include at least one person with a disability.

Second Sunday after Pentecost

Ruth 4: God’s Redemption Made Visible

Call to Worship

Children of God, who is merciful and just,
come to worship your Redeemer and King.

God of Rachel, Jacob, and Leah,
make us faithful in responding to your mercy.

God of Perez, Tamar, and Judah,
help us reflect you with justice and grace.

God of Naomi, Boaz, and Ruth,
work your purposes through us
as you have for generations.

Children of God, who is mighty to save and faithful in love,
come to worship God your Father, God the Son,
and God the Holy Spirit.
Amen.
—Rev. Shannon Jammal-Hollemans

Sermon Notes

The book of Ruth culminates in this chapter in a transaction between Boaz and a man without a name. It is ironic that this man, who had the rights to Naomi’s land and Ruth as a wife, remains nameless while the identities of the two women, seemingly destitute at the beginning of this story, are clear. God provides for Naomi and Ruth through Boaz’s willingness to step up for them. The covenant faithfulness of God is made evident in Boaz’s faithfulness.

This chapter provides us with a lesson about power—about how God’s people can use their power to reflect God’s faithfulness. The references to Rachel and Leah, Perez, Tamar, and Judah point to the faithfulness of a God who provides in spite of the sins of humanity. The ending of the chapter also highlights how the central role of God’s people is our calling to be witnesses to God’s goodness and power.

The final images in the book of Ruth are of the women of Bethlehem celebrating what God has done, and then a family tree. Family trees can be a startling way to recognize how sin infiltrates lives, but also how God’s faithfulness pervades the lives of our families. This chapter illustrates how God meets us in our pain, calls us to obedience, and provides for us not just as individuals, but as families.

It may seem counterintuitive, but one of the best ways to gain understanding about racism in North America is to get to know the stories in the branches of one’s own family tree, whatever one’s ethnic background. In looking closely at the past in light of the present, we can begin to see how sin often reflects our failure to know our past. This is why the call to worship in the Scriptures is consistently a call to remember—to remember what God has done for us so we can interpret what God is doing today. Just as Scripture interprets Scripture, our family histories can help us interpret our present situations.

Like Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz, we serve a God who takes us beyond our histories, through the present, and into the future. The promises of God stand the test of time. While God works in ways that elude our understanding in the moment, with the lens of history we can see the ways God’s hands carried us through the most challenging times of our lives. God is good—all the time.

Psalm Reading

Psalm 111

New Testament Reading

Galatians 3:23–29

Songs

“Cantemos al Señor/O Sing unto the Lord” Rosas, LUYH 544
“I Will Sing of My Redeemer” Bliss, LUYH 568, PsH 479
“Blest Be the Tie That Binds” Farrell, LUYH 257, GtG 306, PsH 315

Idea

Ask a family in your church to read the Scripture to show how God uses families to fulfill God’s purposes.