A Story of Woven Threads
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The Great Exchange - 04.09.2023
After the resurrection, there this moment when Jesus appears to his disciples on the road to Emmaus. And at first they don’t recognize him, as he travels with them, and then he eats with them. And there’s this amazing moment in Luke chapter 24, where he takes the bread on the table and he breaks the bread. And it triggers this memory in the back of their minds and they finally recognize him. We talked about this last week - that communion is not just a little cup with some juice and a wafer. It’s a cross reference for our memory, a connecting thread for us to remember what God did for us on the cross. And in that moment, when Jesus is sitting there with the disciples, before he breaks the bread and reveals himself, there’s this amazing verse. Luke chapter 24, verse 27, well let me back up to verse 25, [read v.25-27]. After the resurrection, Jesus took the time to outline and explain to the disciples that this book really only has one overarching story to tell. You could call it the meta-narrative. Every page of this book whispers Jesus’ name.
Let me show you what I mean. [put the visual up]. Take a look at this picture. Hopefully you were handed a card with a mini version of it as you walked in this morning. It’s a pretty cool picture, but it actually gets even better when I explain what you’re looking at. Back in 2007, there was a Pastor named Christoph Romhild and a data researcher named Chris Harrison got together with the goal of creating a visualization of every cross reference in the Bible. What you are looking at is 63,779 moments in this book when it connects or references itself. Now remember, the Bible is made up of 66 books written by over 35 authors, on three different continents, over the span of one thousand, five hundred years - and yet, look at how interconnected it is! People say, “well, they just made it up when they wrote the Bible” - are you kidding me? Look at this thing. The bar graph that runs along the bottom represents all of the chapters in the Bible, starting with Genesis 1 on the left. Books alternate white and gray, and the bar graph represents every chapter of the Bible, and the length of the bar graph shows how long the chapter is. That really long one in the middle there is Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible. Each of the 63,779 cross references is represented in a single arch, and the color represents the distance between those references. One commentator used this visual to refer to the Bible as the world first “hyper-linked” text.
So when Jesus rose from the dead, he took some time to walk the disciples through the Old Testament, to show how Moses and the prophets and all of it connects to tell one primary story - the story of salvation for all of humanity through Jesus Christ. Today we are continuing our Chronological study, and if you want to follow along in your bible, we’re going to working primarily in the book of Ruth. Like I mentioned last week, the Chronological study is too much to get into every Sunday - but what I want to do is hit the major themes so you can see how every thread weaves together to make a complete picture. And I know it’s Easter, and I’m supposed to tell that story - the one about Jesus and angels and empty tombs and all that - but what I hope you see by the end of this sermon is that.. I AM telling that story. And I’m also telling the story of each and every one of us and the struggles we deal with on a daily basis in the modern world. Let me tell you a story of woven threads.
So we jump into the text in the book of Ruth. Now a lot of you probably remember pieces of the story, but let me give you the framework. There’s this lady Naomi. She’s married and she has two boys. The boys grow up, and they both get married - no grand babies yet, but all seems well through verse 4. Her husband has passed away, but at least she has her sons. But verse 5 comes along and both of her sons pass away. We are five verses in, and Naomi’s story sounds an awful lot like the book of Job. So, Naomi resolves herself to return home, she’s got these two daughters-in-law, but she tries to send them home. The one, Orpah, cries, hugs, kisses and she goes on her way back to her parents house. But the other daughter in law, Ruth, doesn’t leave. She says, “I’m going to stick with you.” Chapter 1, verse 18, [read 18-20]. Now the name “Naomi” means pleasant, but the word “Mara” means bitter - and so Naomi’s being a little dramatic. Don’t call me pleasant, call me bitter. And what was beautiful about this was that that reading, in the chronological study, that reading came to us on Good Friday. The day of Jesus’ death, just lined up so perfectly. It was like this weird “chef’s kiss” moment. Don’t call me Naomi, call me Mara. And what I want you to realize is that there’s a reflection of Jesus in this moment, absolutely - but there’s also a reflection of you. Have you ever had a “good friday” moment? Have you ever had a “Call me mara” moment? Where just everything is falling apart, and you feel like you’ll never find joy again. You’re in the valley, and you just do not see how you can ever get out. And sometimes it’s not just a moment, sometimes it’s a whole season - right? Where we just feel hopeless. Call me Mara.
See, here’s the thing - every single one of us in our lives has had good days and bad days. Every single one of us has had mountains and valleys. And when we are fed with suffering we have a choice. We can either run to God, or we can run FROM God. We can blame God, or we can lean ON God. We in this story, and in each of our lives, we are presented with a choice. We can be Naomi - bitter and hopeless, or we can be Ruth - and get to work looking for a redeemer. And before we move on, I do want to point out, Naomi says, “call me Mara” and everyone around her says, “No.” They completely ignore her request. They continue to call her Naomi. And when I think about that, what I want you to realize is that - when you are having a good friday moment, or when you are having a “call me mara” season - that does not change your identity. You are not defined by your worst moment. Even when you feel far away from God, your identity has not changed. You are still God’s beloved. You are still Naomi.
So the story continues, and we move into chapter 2. Ruth and Naomi show up back in Naomi’s homeland. Ruth is a moabite, and if you don’t know - they’re not super popular with Israelites. She is a stranger in a strange land. But she’s determined to take care of Naomi, so Ruth goes out into the fields. There’s this whole tradition where harvesters would intentionally leave some grains on the edges of the field to take care of the poor in their society. It was called “gleaning” - and it’s outlined way back in Leviticus, but it was even around with Jesus and the disciples when they were walking through the fields. So she’s out there getting some food, when Boaz notices her, and he asks about her. “Oh yeah, she’s that lady who came back with Naomi (notice they don’t call her Mara). She’s been working really hard.” So Boaz goes over to her and tells her, “feel free to work in my fields, no one is going to bother you. Help yourself to some water if you need.” And then verse 10, [read v.10]. Now I want you to take a second and think about the tapestry of scripture - all the interconnected woven threads. If we are identifying with Naomi and Ruth. If we are Naomi, if we are Ruth - in need of salvation. Boaz is the Christ-type figure of this story. He is the one who saves, he is the one who redeems. I hear Ruth’s response and I think of my response to God’s grace. What have I done to deserve such kindness?
Boaz is the redeemer in Ruth’s story, just like God is the redeemer in your story. God is here to redeem you today. Maybe you’re like Naomi - bitter and burnt by the broken world, or maybe you’re like Ruth - determined and focused - but either way, God is our redeemer. Through Jesus Christ, because of the empty tomb, you are given the gift of salvation. If you are sick and tired of being sick and tired, if you are tired of the relentless rat race, the cycle of sin and oppression that dominates this world - there is good news for you today. God is here to redeem you today. And if you are ready, to accept Jesus into your life as your savior - God will work a redemption that is far better than anything that Boaz can do for Ruth.
We get down to chapter 2, verse 21 and Ruth comes back from the field to chat with Naomi and she’s telling her everything that happened and [read it]. Now, on the one level - they’re just talking about the fields, right? She will be safe in this field, she can work with the harvesters in Boaz’s field. But I think about the threads, the tapestry that God is weaving with this story. I think about Jesus and his disciples walking through the fields, pulling the heads of wheat off, gleaning in the fields, just like Ruth is gleaning in the fields hundreds of years earlier - and I think about this harvest language. For Ruth it’s the obvious reality, there’s actually plants in front of her that need harvesting - but when Jesus talks about it, in Matthew chapter 9, verse 37 - well, let me read it for you [read v.36-38]. Boaz invites Ruth, “join my harvesters” and if Boaz is the Christ-like figure, and we are Ruth, then God is inviting us to join his harvesters, to take care of his people. Jesus’ heart for his people is like Boaz’s heart for this poor widow working in his fields - I wonder, what is our heart for the people in our fields, in our lives?
So the story continues, with Ruth working the harvest all summer, and the next big scene is when Naomi pushes Ruth to approach Boaz on the threshing floor. The threshing floor, for those who don’t know, is where you bring the wheat, the harvest and then you smack it, or “thresh” it, and that separates the wheat from the chaff - the good stuff from the bad stuff. And AGAIN, we are given some layers to the text. Verse two Boaz is winnowing barley on the threshing floor, and I’m hearing echoes of John the Baptist in the book of Matthew, where he says, [read Matthew 3:11-12]. I mean, wow - right? And I do want to apologize. I realize I’m sort of nerding out with the Bible this week, jumping around trying to show you all the connections - but my point is that there is one story to scripture, and that is the story of how much God wants to redeem you through Jesus Christ. God is not just HERE to redeem you, he is EAGER to redeem you.
We get to the end of chapter three, Ruth has put it all out there. She basically tells Boaz, I need someone to save me. I need someone to redeem me. (If you want to get into the weeds on that, technically she’s looking for something called a “kinsman redeemer” which means someone from within the family who can save her, and there’s an adoption process with a new child being born that will restore a family and it has all these parallels with the family of God, and our adoption into sonship through Jesus Christ, and I don’t even have time to get into all that - but its’ just… augh! The word of God is so amazing!) And anyways she’s chatting with Naomi at the end of the chapter, and Naomi says, in verse 18, [read it]. Once Boaz knew what needed to be done, he was resolved to do it. Boaz was EAGER to redeem Ruth, and God is eager to redeem you.
Now at this point, you might still be skeptical. You might be thinking, Pastor JJ - “so what if there are two parts of the Bible that talk about threshing floors? So what if there are two parts of the Bible that talk about harvest and redemption? Couldn’t this just be a coincidence? Just people using the same metaphors or whatever? Is all this stuff really evidence of a grander plan? Well, that’s why we have chapter four. There’s some really weird stuff where Boaz gathers the town leaders, they work out the details, which apparently include giving your left shoe to the other guy - it’s very strange, I’ll let you check that out on your own. But basically what happens is that Boaz does everything necessary to redeem Ruth and Naomi. Everybody is all excited, Boaz has brought redemption - he and Ruth get married, they have a kid, who they give to Naomi to restore her family line - happy ending, everybody’s thrilled, yay. But there’s two things I don’t want you to miss. First, verse 11. It goes like this, [read it]. Now I want to give full credit here. The pastors of Aldersgate where reading this passage together a couple weeks ago, and Pastor Matthew gets to that verse, and he starts freaking out. Like, he clearly saw a thread - and I didn’t see it. He’s like that’s Micah, that’s in the book of Micah. The end of the book of Ruth, “May you prosper in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.” The minor prophet Micah, chapter 5, verse 2, [read it]. Scholars estimate there’s 200 years between when those books were written. I mean, I know my bible - I would go so far as to say I know it really well, but Pastor Matthew pulled that from memory, it was awesome.
So the end of Ruth tells us - this baby? This family line? It’s going to be important. Chapter 4, verse 16 [read v.16-17]. Don’t miss this. Ruth was a moabite, an outcast and a foreigner. A stranger to the family of Israel, and by giving her son to Naomi and restoring the family name and she becomes the great-grandmother of King David. What did Micah say? “A ruler of Israel will come from you, one whose origins are from the distant past.” The prophet Micah pointing out that a leader was coming - King David, yes. But do you know who else is descended from King David? Descended from Ruth and Naomi, from Boaz? Jesus. Out of Bethlehem came a leader, whose origins are from the distant past. Let me show you a story of threads, a tapestry woven by God into a picture of redemption.
The good news this morning is that God is here to redeem you today. God is EAGER to redeem you. To claim you, to call you “Naomi.” God refuses to call you Mara. I look at the way Boaz was eager to redeem Ruth - the way he went the extra mile to be the kinsman redeemer and didn’t give up until the job was done and a family was made whole again. And I think about Jesus on the cross. The way he persevered through the horror of Friday, the silence of Saturday, and he didn’t give up until the tomb was empty and death was defeated and the family of God was made whole again. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, so that you could have eternal life. If you will trust in Jesus, give your whole life to him, promise to serve him as your lord and savior - you can be redeemed! God loves you, and he is eager to redeem you. If you have ever had a “good friday moment”, if you have ever had a day where you say, “call me Mara”, call me bitter, call me broken, call me beat up by this world - well, then this good news is for you. Jesus is waiting. Standing next to the empty tomb, calling you home. Calling you to wholeness. Run to him. Run to Jesus.
God is eager to redeem us, so how do we respond to that? How did Ruth respond when Boaz took care of her? She joined in the harvest. Same thing for us. Jesus said, “the harvest is great, but the workers are few.” There are so many people who don’t know about God’s grace. So many people living in the cycle of sin and oppression, the never ending loop of brokenness and bitterness - just desperate to break free. They say “call me Mara,” they say, “my God, why have you forsaken me?” They are literally crying out for good news, and we have that good news. The people who need Jesus are out there. Will you join him working in the fields?
I have two challenges for you today. First, I hope you see from walking through the text this morning that there’s always a deeper level. There are threads woven throughout this story that tie together in incredible ways. Bread crumbs separated by hundreds of years that all come together to lead us to a very simple story. The whole point of this book is so that you can know everything you need to know about Jesus to accept his salvation, to accept his redemption. There’s always a deeper level - so my first challenge to you is DIVE DEEPER. I said last week, these are deep waters we are swimming in - so get lost in the depths. Explore the depths of God’s love, the depths of God’s story. When you find something in scripture that you don’t understand, or you have questions - that’s no an excuse to throw it away, it’s an invitation to look closer, to dive deeper. There ARE answers, I promise. It all ties together. Dive deeper into God’s story of redemption.
My second challenge for you all this morning is join God in the harvest. I look at what Ruth did with Boaz, and I think - that’s what we need to be doing. We need to join God in the harvest. We need to share the good news of the empty tomb and the redemption that is offered for all people. If you know a Namoi in your life - someone who is out there trying to be a “Mara” - you need to be like Ruth. Tell them about Boaz! Tell them about Jesus and what he can do with a broken life! Reach into people’s lives - give them the gift of hope. Invite them to church. Invite them to bible study. Or just offer to pray for them! That’s one of the easiest ways to reach into someone’s life. “Hey, I’m a Christian - and I was just wondering if there was anything going on in your life I could pray for.” Bam, you just offered a little candlelight into whatever that person might have been going through.
Quick story to wrap up, I’ve been a church kid my whole life. I’m literally a professional Christian, an ordained elder in the church. But I’ve never been a “churchy” pastor. I spend a lot of times in coffee shops, and most people look at me and they do not assume - yeah, that guys a respectable member of the clergy. And I grew up like a lot of you folks - in the United Methodist Church. We don’t really do the whole evangelism thing. So I’m out to breakfast, with a pastor buddy of mine. We’re having breakfast at Cracker Barrel, and he’s my age and we’re just sitting down and he turns to the waitress and says, “Good morning, you know - we are both pastors, and we would love to know how we can pray for you today.” And I was mortified. I was like, “dude, we could have just ordered our pancakes, little biscuits and gravy and moved on. She’s going to think we’re total bible dorks now.” But the way she responded shocked me. She started tearing up, she told us she’d been going through a really hard time and she was right on the edge of losing hope and she listed a couple things we could pray for - some family trouble, some people she loved who were going through illness and whatnot.” And as she talked I became ashamed of my embarrassment. Because my friend was loving this waitress more than I was. He was giving her good news, that someone cared - that God cared. He was being Ruth to her Naomi, and I just wanted a refill of my coffee. So when our food came, I asked him - I was like, “you bless the food, and I’ll pray for the waitress.” And I did, this was years ago and ever since then I’ve been challenging myself to ask that question more when I’m with people. My challenge to you this week - join God in the harvest, be Ruth to the Naomi’s of this world. Love them. Pray for them. Tell them about Jesus. Let me tell you a story of threads, a tapestry woven by God into a picture of the redemption of the world. Let’s pray.