I Finally Preach a Sermon About Women for Women. Or Do I? (Thinking Through the Book of Ruth)

Women have been a big part of the story, from Eve on. Women have not always been the focus of sermons, and I confess, that includes sermons by me. The majority of sermons in our Baptist circles are preached by men and when we do preach on women it is often either a sermon about a heroine of the faith, which all women should be like, or what the Bible says about the place of women in families and churches, which all women should pay attention to. So usually a sermon about women, to women is focused on how they should be better. Shall we follow the usual path as we focus in on the Book of Ruth?

Interestingly, the Book of Ruth is placed right after the Book of Judges which itself ends with women being a big part of the story. True, it is mostly about men being at war, but women become the focus when the tribes of Israel recognise that since the tribe of Benjamin was down to 600 men following a war against them, they would need wives so that the tribe would not be completely wiped out. Let’s pause and consider what happened to all the women of Benjamin.

You know how if you don’t show up to a meeting, the people at the meeting nominate you for a job you don’t want? The men of Jabesh-Gilead did not send soldiers to the battle so the other tribes destroyed that town, women and children included, all except for 400 marriage worthy women who were taken and given to the men of Benjamin. That leaves 200 men without wives. They were each told to abduct a wife from a festival at Shiloh. Problem solved. For the men.

If you think the Bible always teaches you how to live, you will run into trouble here. The Bible often records how horrible things were (and are), and how not to live, how not to do things. It also records here what attitudes toward women men are not to have.
In the Book Judges men treated women like property. Men often treated each other badly, but generally it was safer to be a man than a woman. It still is.

The Book of Ruth offers a great contrast to the Book of Judges. In the Book of Ruth, Naomi and Ruth matter. Women matter.

While the book is about Ruth and Naomi, it is also about Boaz. Boaz is an example of a better attitude toward women than what we find in the Book of Judges. Fir example,

Boaz went over and said to Ruth, “Listen, my daughter. Stay right here with us when you gather grain; don’t go to any other fields. Stay right behind the young women working in my field. See which part of the field they are harvesting, and then follow them. I have warned the young men not to treat you roughly. And when you are thirsty, help yourself to the water they have drawn from the well.”….When Ruth went back to work again, Boaz ordered his young men, “Let her gather grain right among the sheaves without stopping her. And pull out some heads of barley from the bundles and drop them on purpose for her. Let her pick them up, and don’t give her a hard time!”

Ruth 2:8,9,15,16 (NLT)

While Boaz recognised the kindness of Ruth toward Naomi, he responded with kindness of his own. Some may want to turn the story of Ruth and Boaz into a romance novel, but it really is more about how in marrying Ruth, Boaz ensured that Ruth and Naomi were provided for, fulfilling his responsibility as a kinsman-redeemer. Boaz did what he was supposed to do, but in doing that he stood in contrast to many men we find in the Bible who did not. May we who are men be more like Boaz, and less like the men we find in Judges.

The Book of Ruth also contrasts with another book of the Bible; Ezra:

Then Ezra the priest stood and said to them: “You have committed a terrible sin. By marrying pagan women, you have increased Israel’s guilt. So now confess your sin to the LORD, the God of your ancestors, and do what he demands. Separate yourselves from the people of the land and from these pagan women.”
Then the whole assembly raised their voices and answered, “Yes, you are right; we must do as you say!” Then they added, “This isn’t something that can be done in a day or two, for many of us are involved in this extremely sinful affair. And this is the rainy season, so we cannot stay out here much longer. Let our leaders act on behalf of us all. Let everyone who has a pagan wife come at a scheduled time, accompanied by the leaders and judges of his city, so that the fierce anger of our God concerning this affair may be turned away from us.”
Only Jonathan son of Asahel and Jahzeiah son of Tikvah opposed this course of action, and they were supported by Meshullam and Shabbethai the Levite.

Ezra 10:10-15 (NLT)

In the Book of Ezra the people recommitted their lives to God. That might be the gist of a sermon I would preach on this passage of Scripture. Look at how great these men were and the strength of their commitment to God! In the Book of Ezra the men recommitted their lives to God by sending away their foreign wives, plus children. Where did these women and children go? What happened to them?

Many Bible scholars think that the Book of Ruth, while set in the days of Judges, was recorded at the time of Ezra. We could sum up the moral of the story as; “Before we send our foreign wives away, let us remember Ruth, a foreign woman, a good woman, and the great-grandmother of king David. Foreign women matter.” Yes, commitment to God is commendable, but the path taken to show that in Ezra may not have been wise. Perhaps we sometimes make unwise decisions even in our attempts to be committed to God. The Bible doesn’t always tell us how to live, but records for us different voices as people wrestled with how to live well. May we who are men be more like Boaz, and less like the men we find in Judges, and Ezra.

Perhaps this is typical. I set out to write sermon about women, for women, and it ends up being about men, for men; Men, we need to be better.

If there is a message to women here, it could be; if the men in your life are like the men of Judges, who were not known for their commitment to God, or like the men of Ezra, who were…you deserve better.

Confusion and Certainty on the Road to Emmaus, or Any Road for that Matter. Thinking Through Luke 24:13-35.

Are you ever confused about faith and/or the Bible? Are you ever quite certain about faith and/or the Bible. You are not alone! You will be able to relate to the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus who were quite confused, and quite certain.

First, we can relate to the two disciples in our confusion and disappointment:

[Jesus] asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”
They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”
“What things?” Jesus asked.
“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.

Luke 24:17-21

“We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel.” Implied was, “but having been killed, it turns out he was not.”

Let us remember that when they talked about the rescue of Israel they were thinking of a messiah who will lead them to military victory over the enemies of the nation Israel. In that day it was the occupying forces of Rome. They had hoped Jesus would be the one to kick the Romans out and lead the nation to be a great world power. Instead, far from leading a victory over the Romans, having been handed over by his own countrymen, Jesus was killed by them. Hopes were dashed. Yet who, or what, was this Jesus who seemed to be from God?

We can feel like these two disciples in our relationship with God when we hope for one thing but it does not turn out as hoped. We might hope that God will rescue us from all suffering. We might hope that God will miraculously deliver us from an addiction, or heal us from a disease. But then reality sets in, we do suffer, we are not miraculously delivered or healed, and like the two disciples on the road to Emmaus, hope is replaced with confusion and disappointment.

However, it was not long before an even larger reality set in for the two disciples. Jesus is alive! There is hope! But their nation was still not going to be rescued from the Romans. In fact the Romans destroyed Jerusalem within a generation. That being said, reality turned out to be better. There was a greater hope to hang onto. Jesus was not going to rescue their nation from the Romans, but he was going to rescue people from being like the Romans. He was bringing the kingdom of God, not with a military victory and restoration of one particular nation to world power status, but with a spiritual victory and the opportunity for all people to be restored to a relationship with God.

On the road to Emmaus the disciples moved from disappointment to hope. What they had hoped for was not as good as what was really happening. Are we open to God’s greater ways? God’s greater ways often require greater patience. Are we excited about God, about God in our lives even when it is not as we expected or might have hoped?

Second, we can relate to these two disciples in how we think we have it all figured out, but don’t.

The disciples thought they had things figured out because after all, they were taught what the Bible says. The religious teachers would have had no problem finding Bible verses to support the idea that God would rescue their nation from all enemies including, therefore, the Romans in their day. However, Jesus, reading the same Scriptures, what we now call the Old Testament, came to a different conclusion:

Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Luke 24:25-27 (NLT)

Then a little later, with all the disciples present:

Then he said to them, “These are my words that I spoke to you while I was still with you—that everything written about me in the law of Moses, the prophets, and the psalms must be fulfilled.” Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.

Luke 24:44-47 (NRSV)

“Written about me,” and not about their nation. “Repentance and forgiveness…to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem.” Where the religious teachers of the day saw their nation, represented by Jerusalem, as being the end goal of God’s purposes as revealed in the Scriptures, Jesus pointed out that the Scriptures were really talking about the beginning. God had bigger plans, much bigger plans. Those plans included Israel, but were moved forward through Jesus.

The disciples thought they knew what the Scriptures meant, but Jesus led them to a fuller understanding. The Kingdom of God was not one nation becoming a great world power, but God’s power at work in all nations. The Scriptures were pointing to the Kingdom of God, and King Jesus, all along.

Jesus moved the disciples from misunderstanding to understanding. Do we need that too? Are we misunderstanding things? Our misunderstandings may not be things that we are currently confused about. The two disciples on the road to Emmaus were confused about the identify of Jesus but they were not confused about the identity and purpose of the Messiah. They were quite certain about what they knew, but they misunderstood. Is it possible we might be misunderstanding things we are certain about also?

In conclusion…

The disciples were confused about Jesus, discouraged and disappointed by what had happened, but also certain about what they believed. They moved from disappointment to hope when they opened their hearts and minds to a new understanding of what God was really doing. Are we on a similar journey that includes both confusion and certainty? Are we ready to move further down the road to hope?