December 6, 2020 Sermon
“Jesse Tree Sermon 2 – Boaz: Caring for the Least”
1st Scripture Reading – Ruth 2:1-7
2 Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2 And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.” She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” 3 So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. 4 Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.” 5 Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?” 6 The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”
2nd Scripture Reading – Ruth 2:8-13
8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. 9 Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.” 10 Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?” 11 But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12 May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!” 13 Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant, even though I am not one of your servants.”
“Jesse Tree Sermon #2 – Boaz: Caring for the Least”
I was raised in a fairly typical suburban family. We lived in Carrollton, a suburb of Dallas, Texas. I didn’t realize how sheltered I was in Carrollton until I moved away from the suburb to live in Austin for four years while attending the University of Texas. Sure, my family had occasionally attended events in Dallas proper – we visited the Dallas Public Library from time to time, attended the Texas State Fair every year, and attended the occasional Dallas Mavericks basketball game – and, when we visited downtown my eyes were opened to some things I didn’t see at all in Carrollton. But, for the most part, I lived a sheltered, suburban life.
Then, I moved to Austin. Bordering the University of Texas campus on the west side is Guadalupe Street, also known as “The Drag”. The off-campus dorm I lived in my first year was at the corner of Guadalupe and 24th Street, and, given the location of most of my classes, the most convenient route for me to get pretty much anywhere was for me to walk down The Drag. Why do I tell you this? Well, as it turns out, in the late 1980s, when I attended UT, The Drag was also the home to a large homeless population. So…everytime I went to class, everytime I went out for a bite to eat, everytime I went shopping, everytime I went pretty much ANYWHERE, I saw some things I almost NEVER saw during my days in Carrollton:
- I saw people holding signs asking for money;
- I was approached daily by people who verbally asked for money and occasionally assaulted people who declined;
- I saw people smoking certain drugs and injecting themselves with other drugs;
- I saw used needles pretty much everywhere;
- I saw people performing all manner of acts I had never imagined people would perform in public back in my “sheltered youth” days.
By the time I entered my second year at UT and lived much further away from the university, I had decided to avoid the Drag as much as possible. Sure, most of the campus bookstores and gift shops were there, and some of the restaurants and coffee shops on that street were so good that I would still drop by on occasion, but, for the most part, I AVOIDED Guadalupe Street and tried to shelter myself once again. At the time, I thought it was a good decision. But, looking back, it’s a decision that I’ve struggled with for most of my adult life. Actually, the way I handled most of my interactions with the homeless population of Guadalupe Street during those years has haunted me for much of my adult life. It’s not that I was mean or rude to those folks. What I struggle with is that – after first trying a bit to interact with some of those folks – I mostly tried to avoid them: avoid looking at them, avoid talking to them, avoid helping them. In other words, I spent most of my four years in Austin acting as if those folks didn’t exist.
During the sermons this Advent season, we’ll be looking at some of the people mentioned in the genealogies of Jesus found near the beginning of the gospels of Matthew and Luke, trying to figure out what God was trying to tell us through these ancestors of Jesus…because God must have chosen these ancestors of Jesus very carefully (or God wouldn’t have led Matthew and Luke to write their names down in the gospels)…and because Jesus’ ancestors are also OUR spiritual ancestors and therefore have quite a bit to teach us about God’s desires for us and all the world.
When you read – or heard me read – from the book of Ruth this morning, I would imagine you guessed the ancestor of Jesus whom I would talk about today would be Ruth…which isn’t surprising. Most often, when I have preached from the book of Ruth, I have focused my attention on Ruth…for good reason. Ruth represents so many things we need to hear about and uplift: someone outside God’s people who was grafted in to become part of the line of the Messiah, a woman who we imagine would have been overlooked as unimportant in her time and place, a person who began the story as part of another faith but became completely devoted to God. These are all messages we need to hear from time to time. Unfortunately, our focus on Ruth leads us to overlook the importance of Boaz. And Boaz’ importance grows this time of year, during this Advent season when we anticipate the coming of the Christ child…because Boaz taught us quite a lot about what the Messiah would be about. Which might have something to do with why BOTH Matthew and Luke list Boaz in their genealogies of Jesus, while only Matthew mentions Ruth.
Here are some things God taught us through Boaz (in our reading today) about what the Messiah would be about…and what WE should be about.
First and foremost, Boaz focused on God in his interaction with people. It might seem like such a small thing when we read that Boaz greeted his reapers – the people working to harvest his field – with the words, “The Lord be with you”…but it’s no small thing at all. Boaz’ greeting reflects a God-focus, COMMUNICATES his God-focus to his workers and to everyone who overhears these encounters.
Imagine for a moment the way people most often greet you. If you’re like me, you hear greetings like:
- “Hey” or “hey you”;
- “Good morning” or “good afternoon”;
- “How’s it going”;
- Or even just launching straight into conversation without any words of greeting to kick it off.
Now…think of how DIFFERENT your encounters with people would be if those encounters ALL BEGAN with a God-focus, with words like “The Lord be with you”. Wouldn’t that CHANGE the tone and focus of your conversations and interactions with people? Wouldn’t that change the tone and focus of your day – to be reminded of God at the onset of every human interaction?
Y’all, God sent Jesus in part to re-focus the attention of our lives on God – remember Jesus’ primary purpose had to do with the in-breaking of God’s kingdom on earth – and Boaz demonstrated for us at least one way to do just that.
A second thing God taught us through Boaz about what the Messiah would be about – and what we should be about – has to do with how Boaz utilized his material resources. This has to do with something that is evident in what we read today but that is not explicitly stated. In the Old Testament times, God’s people – like Boaz – were called to live in ways prescribed by God’s laws handed down through Moses. A great many of those laws concern something that gets translated into English as “justice” but is not about what we think of as “justice”. These justice laws were about taking care of the people who were least able to take care of themselves: widows, children, foreigners, disabled people, and poor people, among others. Some of those laws concerned the practice of gleaning that plays a central part in the story of Ruth and Boaz’ meeting. Let’s hear the laws about gleaning prescribed in Leviticus 19:9-10:
9 When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap to the very edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. 10 You shall not strip your vineyard bare, or gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the alien: I am the Lord your God.
Leaving some of the harvest for people who don’t have the means to feed themselves is a component of God’s desire for justice among God’s people. Now, you might just assume that since God commanded such practices that all of God’s people followed. But we KNOW this isn’t the case. How do we know? Well, the book is set in the time of the Judges, and we are told over and again throughout the book of Judges that God’s people strayed from God’s desires. And we ALSO know that hundreds of years later, when God allowed foreign nations to conquer and exile God’s people, the REASON God allowed God’s chosen people to be conquered and exile is because God’s people had ceased taking care of the least among them….was because God’s people stopped acting out of a sense of God’s justice. What this means is that Boaz was an aberration; Boaz was UNCOMMON among God’s people in forgoing some wealth for himself to provide food for the least in his society.
As we approach Christmas this Advent season, surely you remember that Jesus taught pretty much the same message over and again: don’t hoard for yourself but rather share of whatever you DO have so that ALL will have enough. That’s a great big part of what the Church is supposed to be about, supposed to do. It’s a great big part of why homeless people today – even here in Grand Junction – choose to live in parks near church buildings like ours, choose to sleep under the awnings of church buildings like ours, choose to find shelter in the entryways of buildings like ours, choose to seek out food and clothing from congregations like ours: even if they can’t tell you where in the Bible God tells God’s people to give of some of their resources to help those who have less, the folks who have little in our society KNOW that’s’ what we’re supposed to be about. Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors, to take care of our neighbors, to use our resources for our neighbors instead of for ourselves alone.
A third God taught us through Boaz about what the Messiah would be about – and what we should be about – has to do with how Boaz interacted with the gleaners who came to his fields for sustenance. You can learn quite a lot about a person based on how that person treats peers – and even employees. Boaz treated his employees well..which says quite a lot about him. You can learn quite a lot about a person based on how that person allocates material resources. Boaz allocated what appears to be substantial resources for those in need. But you can learn even MORE about a person based on how that person interacts with those in need.
Some people – like my college-aged self – choose to not interact with people in need at all. Like I mentioned earlier, after a while I just tried to avoid the needy people along The Drag in Austin. And some people interact with needy people but in very unhealthy and unhelpful ways: using them, insulting and demeaning them, or even helping them but doing so with an attitude of contempt or bitterness.
And then there are people like Boaz. Boaz inquired about Ruth, learned what he could about her. Then, Boaz approached Ruth directly and, knowing that she was a foreigner who might not know the ways of gleaning, offered her advice and even offered her protection. But notice, even more so than caring for Ruth’s physical needs – protection, food, and water – Boaz sought to care for Ruth’s spiritual needs; he offered her kindness, and he offered her a blessing in the name of God, even offered her a bit of instruction in the ways of God. Boaz shared his faith and explained his kindness in terms of God.
Now imagine your daily life. How many times do you have opportunities like Boaz to encounter a person in need? And when you have these encounters, how do you interact with these metaphorical gleaners? Do you interact with them at all? I wonder, what would happen if you think of Boaz whenever you encounter such people in the coming weeks or months:
- Whenever you encounter a person holding a sign and asking for food on the street corner?
- Whenever you encounter a person at the park who very likely lives there?
- Whenever you encounter a person who looks hungry…or lost…or out of place…or lonely….or sad?
My friends, we live long after the Messiah came into this world and told us to share the good news of God’s love in word and deed…and yet, I wonder sometimes what we actually share by most of our words and most of our deeds. And then I encounter Boaz, who lived long BEFORE God sent the Messiah into this world. And without any knowledge at all of Jesus, Boaz shared God’s love with those like Ruth who needed it most. And we still remember Boaz’ story to this day.
Somehow, I doubt anyone will remember the story of how I chose to avoid interactions with the homeless people of Austin, Texas during my college years. But I DO imagine people would remember if I had chosen differently. I suppose people would remember and tell the story of a young man who spent time in real conversation with the folks who lived on Guadalupe Street. I suppose people would remember and tell the story of a young man who chose to share a meal with a hungry person each day instead of buying himself a cup of high end coffee. I suppose people would remember the story of a young man who used his knowledge and connections to provide opportunities for a better future for the folks who were struggling to make ends meet. I suppose people would remember the story of a young man who took a few hours out of his week to encourage and uplift the personhood and gifts of those folks who lived on Guadalupe Street. And if that young man had done all those things in the name of God’s love as made known in Jesus Christ…the kingdom of heaven very likely would have broken into that otherwise dreary place.
The opportunity to make this kind of difference – the difference of Boaz, the difference for Christ – exists in each of your lives. Maybe you haven’t made the most of it…yet, but there’s still time. This season of Advent, consider the message of Boaz, the message of Jesus’ ancestor through whom God calls each of us – even you – to make a difference for God by caring for the least of these among us.