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Between Moab and Bethlehem (Ruth 1:1-22)

Bethel Church | Jackson, Michigan | Ken Pierpont, Lead Pastor | November 27, 2022 AM

Series| Ruth: An Advent Drama


You Heard the Story. All your life, you have been told that God came into the world in the person of the Christ child. When you were a tiny child, you might have just added that story to the other mysterious puzzling, charming stories grown-ups tell at bedtime. 


Through the years, though, you begin to see that this story was treated differently than other stories. It was told more often than other stories and greater weight was given to it. You soon began to realize that the calendar was organized around this story. Every week maybe two or three times every week you went to a special place to hear the story over again. You sang of it regularly and retold it in symbolic ways through the dramas of the Lord’s Supper and Baptism. 


At a special time of the year you celebrated the story that God came down to us. They say the angels sang and heaven exploded with brightness and earth with glad joy. I’m sure you noticed that the celebration was surrounded with the most wonderful traditions of family gatherings, beautiful decorations, colorful pageantry, and feasting. You probably even sang about Jesus in school during the month of December and all the stores and shops played Christmas carols. 


Adults around you worked and they planned and they stayed up into the night to see to it that on the morning of Jesus birth you would have things waiting for you in large stockings over the fire and piles of brightly colored gifts under a glowing fragrant tree.


You Believed. For many of you, sometime during your childhood, something happened deep in your soul, something wonderful wistful stirred in you. It was even more wonderful than Christmas, but in a way it was an explanation of Christmas and extension of it. You felt it stirring your soul and Christmas became more meaningful to you. Somehow you found in the story of Jesus answers for the deepest questions of your soul. Where did I come from? Why am I here? Where am I going? What about my guilt and shame and what happens when I die? When the people I love or the creatures, I love die what then?


Pastors and teachers, parents and grandparents pointed you to the story of Jesus, birth, and life and death to help you make sense of our own life.


Your Faith Was Challenged. Somewhere along the way, some of us, when we were very young, most of us a little later encountered deep sorrow, a painful hurt, a confusing, betrayal, a dark trial, or a question that we could not answer. For some of us, this shook to the very core. For others, it planted a small seed of doubt in our minds. For some of us temptation to despair or to disbelief grew up like weeds in a tangle around our faith. 


Now here we are in the season that millions of Christian around the world in across the centuries of time have called The Season of Advent—the advent, the appearing, the arrival of Christ. The Christian Church considers again the Appearing, the Arrival, the Advent of God in each in Jesus. And we tell the story again and we sing the story again… But every year we tell it we and sing it, we whisper, we shout it out into the darkness that seems to press in more and more. It sometimes feels like we are gathering sticks and branches to stir up again into warm, bright, dancing flame, the fire of our faith that God came down. We are reminding ourselves again that all the feasting and giving and singing and lighting lights against the darkness, they really mean something, they represent something that’s deeply and eternally, true, and worthy and noble and wonderful.


Gathering Sticks. [story] Building a Fire Twelve Stones. We who gather at Bethel Church, are gathering sticks to build or to rebuild the fire of our faith in the Jesus of Christmas. We are telling again the ancient stories like Matthew, and early and unlikely follower Jesus, Matthew Levi, who had been a despised publican, a Jewish man who collaborated with the cruel occupying Romans. He became a sincere and devout follower of Jesus. He helped many others follow Jesus, and still does. The first gospel is named The Gospel Jesus According to Matthew, and Matthew, guided by the Spirit of God, dwelling in him, began the Jesus story with the most in the most unusual genealogy, in which he does something very unusual for the time, he includes the names of four women, and all four of them are names with some taint of controversy attached to them. (Tamar, Rehab, Bathsheba, Ruth)


Tamar is listed. Her story has shameful chapters in it. Rehab is listed a.k.a. Rehab the harlot. Also, listed is “…the wife of Uriah…” whose name was Bathsheba. She is well-known for the dark incident with David, but there is another woman named by Matthew and included by the Holy Spirit. Her name is Ruth.


David, the Great King of Israel, his father was Jesse. Jesse‘s father was Obed and Obed was the son of a man named Boaz who was the son of Rehab, a.k.a. Rehab, the harlot. So this man, Boaz, son of Rehab the harlot, was married to a woman who came from people who were the product of incest between Lot and his daughter. She was from Moab, and Moab was infamous as an enemy of God’s people, Israel, great king David’s grandmother was Once a pagan godless woman from Moab. More about this later, but this is the clue that sends us back to Ruth gathering sticks to stir the fire of our faith at Advent. The drama has some mystery…


So, David’s grandfather was the son of a woman who had been a prostitute. His grandmother was from Moab. So with Tamar, Rahab, Bathsheba, and Ruth, let’s just say in the wonderful stories of Christmas there are some dizzying plot-twists.


But we walk among these stories to gather the fuel for the fire of our faith every year when the weather turns cold. This December, the season of advent we will warm our hands by the fire of a little story, a little drama. We call An Advent Drama, named after a pagan woman from Moab, who came to trust Yahweh and follow him.


The Dark Time of the Judges. Her beautiful drama is set in the time of Judges. These are dark times. After God brought his people into the promised land, they repeatedly rebelled against him. The they would raise up a judge, and he would discipline his people back into obedience revival. Judges records multiple cycles of apostasy and revival. If you read it, it’s dark reading. It ends in a very dark and disturbing way with troubling stories that are hard to tell and over them all the summary is repeated: “In those days there was no king in Israel, and every man did that was his right in his own eyes..” God’s people did not consistently trust or faithfully obey Yahweh. Then, while you’re still trying to make sense of the disturbing images of judges, while you are trying to drive them out of your head, this beautiful story of redemption appears to warm our hearts and fuel our faith and remind us again that one day the king appeared upon earth, and he was born in a town called Bethlehem. 


The book of judges ends with the statement in those days there was no king in Israel, and everyone did that which was right in his own eyes, and the next book, the story of Ruth, begins with a man his name is, God is my king.


This is where our drama begins in Bethlehem Ephrata. Bethlehem, house of bread. In the cycle of revival and apostasy the story begins in a cycle of apostasy. God is allowing them to experience a season of testing—famine in the house of bread. Each one of the actors in the Ruth drama will be tested… Elimelech, Naomi, Mahlon, Chilton, Orpha, and Ruth, each will be tested.


—A Man Named Elimelech (God is my King) is Tested in his Adequacy. (Famine) He should have trusted God and obeyed him. He should have preached and prayed and worked for revival or died faithful. But instead… he failed the test and moved to Moab!


—His Sons Mahlon and Chilion are tested in their Relationships. They should have married in the faith or died single. Instead when faced with the test of relationships they married women from Moab!


—Naomi is Tested in Her Sorrow and Loss.


—hunger and insecurity

—the weakness of her husband’s faith

—loss of husband. Grief. Insecurity

—loss of sons. Grief. Sorrow, insecurity


This is where the dialog begins and this signals the heart of the story… The rest of the story so far sets this us. The big idea is going to be embedded here… 8-18ff


—Orpha and Ruth (Pagan Women) Tested in their Security.


—Outcasts. Shame. Guilt. 

—Widows

—Childless

—Burden of life… Naomi

—Husbands faith was weak

—Rival world-views… 



The heart of the drama is the heart of the dialog… The Sweet Spot (Ruth 1:16-17)


You, too are being tested. We all are. How are you being rested?

—money

—fulfillment

—adequacy 

—insecurity

—world view—what story is true

—values temporal or eternal

—grief, sorrow, sadness

—guilt or shame

(19-21) Was Naomi Bitter? We have to be careful that we don’t interpret the language of the Bible with the language or contemporary psychological definitions. Was Naomi bitter? I don’t think Naomi was without faith based on my long experience with humans and having read the rest of the story, I believe Naomi is a person of sincere faith wrestling through a season of bitter providences. She was dealing with a bitter providence and she knew it. She knew that what she experienced was something God allowed. I think in her lament like all of us she is wrestling with seeing the sweetness in the bitter circumstances, the bitter tests we often face. She was trying to help Ruth count the cost. Naomi was human, but she was following Yahweh-following God.


Conclusion: On the road from Moab to Bethlehem you will weep and you will have to chose a way… Will you go back, or will you trust and obey. 


Will the drama of your life be a tragedy or a romance? Your life does not need to be Tragedy. If you stir up the fire of your faith, if you trust and obey it can be a Drama of Love and Redemption. 


[ill] The house got cold the night after our family gathered… I got up and I stared a fire… actually I romanticized the story… What I actually did was, I got up and turned the furnace back on… I hope the sweet story of Ruth The Drama, the Romance, the Story of Redemption will warm your heart and stir your faith to Trust God and to Obey Him for the next test…


What will happen with these weeping widows at the branch in the road between Moab and Bethlehem? …Hungry in the house of bread, Wrestling with Bitterness in Bethlehem? We will se what kind of fire this will make as we gather more stick in Act/Chaper 2. But the acts doe end with a hopeful foreshadowing. Do you see it? Naomi left the house of bread (Betlehem) in a family and she has returned. The acts ends with a heart-warming and hopeful phrase: “And they came to Bethlehem…at the beginning of the barley harvest…” 


Sometimes we are hungry, God

Sometimes we are scared

Sometimes we are afraid of loneliness or poverty

Sometimes we are insecure

Sometimes we are guilty and sometimes we are ashamed

Sometimes we are betrayed, abandoned, injured

…sometimes we just stand in the road between Moab and Bethlehem and weep…

… but God we are warming our hands by your fire. 


God I will trust you and I will obey

I will never stop following you

I will go where you go

I will stay where you stay

Your people will be my people.

You are my God and no other forever. 

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