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Sermon Notes for the Teaching at Christian Fellowship Church on Sunday, May 19, 2024

The Gospel According to Ruth: A story of loss

Beth Bramstedt

The Gospel According to Ruth

A Story of Loss

Beth Bramstedt, May 19, 2024

 

 

Q: What is God showing us in Chapter One of Ruth?

A: God is showing us (through Naomi) that his love (hesed) gives us the grace to grieve.

 

Move 1: It is hard to believe that God will do more than we ask or imagine. Yet that is the nature of his love (hesed).

Move 2: The book of Ruth is a gospel story that illustrates God’s love (hesed).

Move 3: In a time of struggle and lament, Naomi could not see God’s love (hesed).

Move 4: Like Naomi, when we cannot see God’s love (hesed), he gives us the grace to grieve.

 

Sticky Statement: God’s love (hesed) gives us the grace to grieve.

 

Primary Sources: “Finding God in the Margins” and “The Gospel of Ruth,” both by Carolyn Custis James.

 

 

Introduction

 

I am a storyteller. Dreams growing up. Ended up at MU. Travel writer, broadcast journalist, magazine writer and editor. Never dreamed of being a pastor.

 

In fact, the first time I preached, I did not volunteer, I was voluntold!

 

I found an outlet for my writing. Digging into God’s stories. Finding where and how God is working and sharing his transformational truth with others.

 

Excited to be sharing the story of Ruth because God has been in this since last fall. Share process.

 

  • Mention Carolyn as resource. Interdependence and her influence with the blessed alliance. Author of Half the Church.

 

He has something for us in this story. And as we will see, as we let God use us for his purposes, He is with us in ways we cannot even imagine.

 

Move 1: It is hard to believe that God will do more than we ask or imagine. Yet that is the nature of his love (hesed).

 

Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen. Ephesians 3:20-21

 

Prayer request slide – story – do we believe this?

 

  • I wish I could say I always do … story of list in The Dream Manager
    • 5-7 years ago. Never thought possible.
    • Now, all but one has been realized.
    • That is his nature.

 

God describes himself to Moses in Exodus 34:6 after revealing the 10 commandments.

 

The Lord passed before him and proclaimed, “The Lord, the Lord, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness. Exodus 34:6

 

Loyal love translates hesed. It is an expression of character. God is hesed. It includes generosity, promise keeping loyalty, care, and love all wrapped in one.

 

Psalms – his love (hesed) endures forever. God kept his promised to the Israelites. He brought them out of captivity and guided them to the promised land.

 

It is hard to believe that God will do more than we ask or imagine. Yet that is the nature of his love (hesed).

 

God wants to do more than we ask or imagine.

 

Move 2: The book of Ruth is a gospel story that illustrates God’s love (hesed).

 

This is the story of the book of Ruth. We are calling the series “The Gospel According to Ruth” because we are going to see and hear the gospel message, God’s love (hesed) for us, at work in this story.

 

The book of Ruth is a female Job story, where God is at work building his kingdom, and his image bearers (Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz) wrestle with devastating tragedy, yet demonstrate the courage to be transformed. Ruth’s bold advocacy for Naomi and her family lineage awakens Naomi, Boaz, and the townspeople to the active presence of YHWH’s love (hesed) that impacts not only Naomi’s family lineage, but the lineage of Jesus, and therefore us.

 

The book of Ruth is a gospel story that illustrates God’s love (hesed).

 

God’s love (hesed) is alive and at work in the book of Ruth, and in the stories of Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz.

 

The beautiful irony is that the three of them never realize the far-reaching, global impact of their selfless actions, which were intended to merely address local family matters. Carolyn Custis James

 

We are going to spend each week in the series focused on one character in the story, and today we are starting with Naomi.

 

Naomi’s story is a story of loss. Let us jump in and hear her backstory.

 

  • Comment on NCIS and the new series featuring Leroy Jethro Gibb’s backstory. Big Bang Theory and Young Sheldon.

 

Move 3: In a time of struggle and lament, Naomi could not see God’s love (hesed).

 

In the days when the judges ruled there was a famine in the land, and a man of Bethlehem in Judah went to sojourn in the country of Moab, he and his wife and his two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. They lived there about ten years, and both Mahlon and Chilion died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband. Ruth 1:1-5

 

  • Naomi endures famine, the life of a refugee, the death of her husband and two sons, and the responsibility for two barren daughters-in-law. Let’s unpack that description as we get to know Naomi.
  • Naomi is female in a fallen patriarchal culture. Under Patriarchy, her value derives from the men in her life – her father, husband, and especially her sons. Sons were patriarchy’s gold standard for women. And here we learn that Naomi has lost all the men in her life. Now past childbearing years, there was little hope for this widow.
  • In addition, both her sons married foreign women. They were not Israelites. They did not follow God. And since neither had gotten pregnant in the time they were married, they were most likely barren. Naomi had walked with them month after month as they waited to become pregnant.
  • All three women found themselves targets, with no rights, no voice, and no hope for a future.
  • The first verse talks about another aspect of their dire situation – famine and faithlessness. The time of the judges was a time of corruption and unrest. It was a time of faithlessness.
  • It was also a time of famine. This left the Israelites confused. They were living in the Promised Land, the land flowing with milk and honey, yet it was ravaged by famine, and they had to leave. They were famine refugees.
  • There is one positive aspect we find in the first five verses of the story. We know from other stories in the Bible, that famine begins the unfolding of God’s story.

 

Famine in the Bible is more than a curse: It is a signal of change and a chance for a new beginning. Joel Baden, professor of Hebrew, Yale University

 

Professor Baden goes on to say that this is true in the book of Ruth. The story of Ruth depends on the initial famine. God is giving Naomi and her family the chance for a new beginning when they move to Moab, and again when she returns to her homeland.

 

We see a glimmer of hope! God’s love (hesed) is at work in Naomi’s life!

 

We pick up the story in verse six, when Naomi has heard that the famine is over in her homeland. So, she sets out from Moab with her two daughters-in-law. But part way into the journey, Naomi changes her mind and encourages the younger ladies to return home to Moab.

 

Naomi said, “Go, return each of you to her mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find rest, each of you in the house of her husband!” Then she kissed them, and they lifted up their voices and wept. Ruth 1:8-10 

 

Even though their marriage commitments meant they were bound to their husband’s family, Naomi sees a bleak future for them in Bethlehem. Instead, she has compassion for them, emancipates them, and urges them to go home where there is a small potential they could remarry or live with their family of origin. They refuse to go.

 

So, she tells them again to return to their people. She claims there is no hope for them if they come with her. She is too old to give birth to another son.

And Ruth says those well-known words.

Do not urge me to leave you. For where you go, I will go, and where you lodge, I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried. Ruth 1:16-17a

And when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said no more.

  • The story begins to build. In God’s grace, while we cannot yet see what He is doing, God gives Naomi a companion for the journey. Orpah decides to return home, but Ruth decides to go with Naomi.
  • While Naomi is still grieving, Ruth is believing. Ruth is believing in a God she has only heard about through Naomi, even when Naomi is doubting.
  • God gives Naomi an invitation to see his love in the process, and in the person of Ruth that God has given her.

Yet, In her time of struggle and lament, Naomi could not see God’s love (hesed).

 

Move 4: Like Naomi, when we cannot see God’s love (hesed), he gives us the grace to grieve.

 

That is true for us as well. So, what does God do in a season of struggle and lament, when we cannot see his love (hesed)?

So, the two of them went on until they came to Bethlehem. And when they came to Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them. And the women said, “Is this Naomi?” She said to them, “Do not call me Naomi, call me Mara, for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me. I went away full, and the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi, when the Lord has testified against me, and the Almighty has brought calamity upon me?” Ruth 1:19-21

  • These are some harsh words Naomi says about God!
  • So, Naomi and Ruth returned from the country of Moab. And they came to Bethlehem at the beginning of barley harvest.
  • Naomi is emptied of everything that gave her life meaning and she doubts God’s love (hesed). She says He sent me away full and has brought me back empty.
  • She cries out to YHWH in protest over the injustices involved in the suffering that God has unleashed on them.
  • She even says, do not call me Naomi, which means pleasant, but call me Mara, which means bitter.
  • Naomi is at the end of herself. She has come home, not to live again, but to die.
  • In her state of grief, Naomi could not imagine what God was going to do next.
  • She could not see God’s love (hesed), but he was there, giving her the grace to grieve.

 

So, what does God do in a season of struggle and lament, when we cannot see his love (hesed)?

 

Like Naomi, When we cannot see God’s love (hesed), he gives us the grace to grieve.

 

It is ok with God if we get angry.  Band comes out here.

 

So here we sit, in the real world, where trouble often strikes unexpectedly and the God who has the power to prevent our sorrows does not stop it. Into these dire circumstances we enter – in the mess, amid losses, despair, darkness, and frightening possibilities, that God is marvelously at work in the most unlikely ways through the most unlikely people. He is busy at work fulfilling our dream list!

 

And do you know what else? Our dream lists are not the only ones he is working on. Those we have lost are still part of the story!

 

Those who have died still matter – not merely to those who grieve their loss but also to YHWH, who continues to show them hesed and act on their behalf. He does not forget them, their concerns, or their prayers. Carolyn Custis James

 

God is working to do more than they asked or imagined.

 

Conclusion

 

The book of Ruth is a story of God’s love (hesed).

 

Our truth for today – chapter one and the story of Naomi:

 

God’s love (hesed) gives us the grace to grieve.

 

Ministry Time

 

Band begins playing “Here’s My Heart” (instrumental).

 

  • I will encourage those experiencing loss to come forward.
  • I will encourage those in a place of joy to come forward and pray with them.
  • Production can begin displaying prayer requests after 3-4 minutes.
  • At the end of prayer requests, I will say a final prayer from “Guerrillas of Grace” and dismiss.

 

 

 

Small Group Resources

 

  • How does viewing the book of Ruth as the story of Naomi, a female Job, contrast with how you’ve previously viewed this story or heard it taught? Or does it?
  • How does the Job-like nature of this story put God at the center, and why is that crucial in reading and studying any part of the Bible?
  • What similarities can you see between your world and Naomi’s (politically, culturally, religiously)?
  • As they did for Naomi, how do your own struggles and losses shape your view of God?
  • Why are these struggles important?
  • How does Naomi’s honesty invite you to be honest with God about your grief, doubts, and anger?
  • How have you seen God at work in your seasons of loss?
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