hats God got to do
with it? Where is God in my 24/7 life? Thats what a lot of folks would like to know;
people inside-and outside-the church. Thats what Naomi wanted to know in the book of
Ruth. Her story is similar to ours. Naomi needs some satisfaction and security; someone to
step in and help her move ahead with her new life in Judah. She also needs some practical
help like housing, groceries, a family, and a future to leave as a legacy. It must have
seemed to her-as it may occasionally seem to us-that she was doing the mining,
manufacturing, and marketing of life. We know what thats like. If God is around at
all, God is somewhere on the edge of life loitering while we push the overloaded
wheelbarrow up the hill. I think we all want satisfaction and security dont we? We
want the comfort of knowing that we are cared for and cared about; that we are loved and
If you read the banal with the substantive, you may have come across a recent article
in USA Today entitled, "Whos Together, Whos Not." If you did
read the piece you would have caught some celebrity gossip that were all just dying
to hear. Like Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke. After five years of marriage theyre
parting company. Ethan is now infatuated with Jenny, a Canadian model, that he met while
filming in Canada. And Halle Berry and Eric Benet are calling it quits after three years
of bliss. Another celeb couple managed sixteen months of love before their respective
careers took them to different continents and different partners. And finally, our own
Britney has found a new boyfriend, though he is married and in the family way.
However, lets not be too cynical toward Americas beloved icons. After all,
in a sense, theyre very much us. People often look for love hoping that this
relationship will supply the satisfaction, meaning, and security that they seek. And so
they go like caroms careening from one infatuation and encounter to the next in the
misguided hope of getting something substantive and satisfying out of life. We all need to
know that we are loved and cared about by another. Such a relationship provides us
security and well-being.
Others pursue the impossible dream in different ways than through relationships. Could
be the career track that weve chosen. Actually, the one weve thrown ourselves
into it. Or it could be retirement. Thats when well really have it made. Just
imagine. Our own Winnebago motorhome; off to exotic places in America and visiting the
grandkids. Or maybe weve sought to gain some sense of balance by volunteering for
every project and activity that we hear about. And so were been baptized into
committees, conferences, councils, and consultations.
Ive even sought security and satisfaction in the church. I remember my first
church plant in Kentucky. It was in a small coal mining town couched along the West
Virginia, Kentucky, and Tennessee state lines. We met in a storefront church and had to
pay our rent and salary out of whatever came in the offering plates. Some Sundays brought
in less than fifty dollars. But our low point came when one Sunday only $14.00 came in.
Rent due. No salary. Car payment. I remember the pain of seeing my wife desperately trying
to hold the tears in as she counted penny by penny the meager amount. We were just trying
to survive from one week to the next. Not much satisfaction and security there. We learned
in that storefront church that security was not to be found in the offering plate.
I think the deep need behind the story of Ruth is that yearning for security and
satisfaction in life. But it sure doesnt start out that way. The opening scene in
fact is like Maslows hierarchy of need in reverse from the top rung of
self-actualization: no king, no food, no husband, no son, no name. Emptiness. So angry is
she will Gods absence and her vulnerability, that she changes her name from Naomi,
which means "pleasant," to the name, Marah, which means
"bitterness." Thus, chapter one ends with the bitter announcement: "I went
away full but the LORD has brought me back empty." The end.
But it isnt the end. For God-this unseen Partner, this Loiterer at the edge of
our life-has been working behind the scenes to turn Naomis barrenness into
fruitfulness. It begins with Naomis concern to provide security for Ruth the
Faithful. "I must find a husband for you," she tells Ruth, "so that you
will have a home of your own" (3:1). Naomi isnt trying to get Ruth married off
because she is sick and tired of Ruth sleeping in till noon and then sitting around all
day watching re-runs. In fact, Ruth has been the bread winner by doing the most menial of
all jobs in the ancient world-gleaning. Gleaning is to pick up the pieces of grain that
the farmhands have missed in the harvesting of crops. Naomi, who is childless and has no
husband, wants something better for Ruth. She knows that Ruth needs security. And she
knows what she has to do to get security: get a husband for Ruth. In this ancient culture,
a single woman was extremely vulnerable and exposed to danger and deprivation. A woman
alone in the world was unthinkable.
"Ruth, you go soak in a hot tub of water and get all that grime off that
youve picked up in the fields," Naomi instructs Ruth. "Then get your blue
pant suit pressed-you look great in that. Oh yes, and be generous with that "Evening
in Calais" perfume and spray it all over your wrists and neck." So Ruth the
Faithful does all that Naomi instructs. But things get steamier and steamier. In fact, at
this point in Naomis instructions the story takes on the shape of a harlequin novel.
"Okay, now you go to the threshing room. Stay over in the dark corner of the room
while every one is drinking. Then when everyones left the place and the wine has put
Boaz to sleep, go and get close to him. Get real close to him."
Commentators blush at these last instructions! "Sleep"-used eight times in
these verses can mean slumber, but frequently it is the word for sexual intimacy. And
"uncover" carries more meaning than just the covers of the bed, and
"feet" (literally, "lower body"), is a common euphemism for
unmentionable male parts, and the threshing floor most often referred to a brothel kind of
place. Even if nothing happened between Ruth and Boaz than just the conversation,
Ruths behavior would have been scandalous even in her society.
But thats where God enters the story. For Gods very name includes provision
and security. What no amount of perfume and strategy can accomplish, God does accomplish.
Without God in the edges of the story we would only be left with a sleazy B movie, but God
enters the story and works through Naomis instructions, works through Boaz, works
through Ruths faithfulness, works through the precise timing of harvest time, and
brings these two women security and satisfaction.
All things-bad things, good things, tragedies, successes, bitterness, our most cunning
strategies, our worst failures, our highest achievements, our most embarrassing
mistakes-all things work together for good in Gods plan, Paul tells us. God takes
the things of our lives and accomplishes extraordinary good through them. And so by
the end of the story, Gods leads a man and a woman from opposite ends of the
economic ladder, from different lands and cultures into marriage; God provides a childless
woman a longed-for son; God leads two women to a new place of hope shaped by a future; God
transforms an embittered, empty woman into a fully-satisfied grandmother and restores her
name and gives her a home and sense of humor. God does all of that-and God does it from
behind the curtains! But even that is not all that God does, for in the final act,
God leads these two formerly single, childless women into a family that will provide them
Israels greatest leadership and usher them into the greatest time of peace and
security: King David.
What about us? How do we know that God is at work in our lives when we have so little
evidence? I offer my own confession. I have been Naomi-Ive complained about
Gods absence. Ive voiced my own needs for security and satisfaction. Naomi was
in that little storefront church in Kentucky. But I now see that God was working even in
that moment. God became my Teacher and I learned as I never could have except in a place
of lack to trust God with all of my heart and soul and strength and to know God as the
Source. I remember taking that paltry $14.00 in the offering and giving ten percent right
back to God only to discover that God could stretch the remaining ninety percent like a
rubber band to accomplish what 100% normally provided.
I thought about God and us and this story of Ruth and Naomi this week as I attended a
ground-breaking ceremony for a new elementary school that will soon be built. A US Senator
and a State Representative sat smiling in the front row, the school board made final
preparations across the aisle, builders and architects filled a couple of rows, and
teachers and citizens sat behind them. So were all sitting in a cornfield facing a
podium and a blueprint of what the new school would look like.
During the ceremony, a group of kindergarten children formed a half-circle with one
from their group standing center and out front of them. The student began to rhyme a poem
she had memorized; at the end of each stanza the semi-circle would chime in with a single
metrical line. Several would tap their foot to make sure they got their line in right
rhythm. Most of the little group of kindergarteners hadnt a clue as to why they were
out in the middle of cornfield during school with big people staring at them. They
probably couldnt appreciate the sophistication of the blueprints. Nor had they any
idea of the bonds needed to pay for the project. They didnt even know the poem, they
just knew their one line and they delivered that line well. Delivering their single line
made them the most joyful and secure of all who were present.
So we dont know the whole thing. This one thing we can know. That God is acting
on our behalf because God loves us and cares for us and about us. What we do every day of
our life is to get up and at the right time, deliver our line. With pizzazz. The rest is
up to God. Amen.