Pentecost 25 B Remembrance Day.
Ruth 3:1-5; 4:3-17 Psalm 127 Hebrews 9:23-28 Mark 12:38-44
+ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
At 11.00am on the 11th of November 1918 an armistice was signed between Germany and the Allies, ending World War I. This day, Armistice Day was set aside and observed to remember soldiers who had no known grave. After World War II, Remembrance Day became a day to commemorate all war dead. More than 70 million people fought in WWI, with estimates of the dead varying between nine and 13 million. Many remain in unmarked graves.
The First World War was supposed to have ended all wars. The 100 years since the Armistice bear an eloquent and sad testimony to how illusory that hope was. Where is the justice and compassion? Those years have seen war after war, campaign after campaign, and thousands more war dead. As many that have died there are thousands of women, daughters, mothers and daughters-in-law who have lived out their lives as widows. A widow’s future in ancient Israel could mean a life of poverty, if she did not find another husband. When a woman’s husband died, the law as set out in Deuteronomy 25: 5-10 provided that she could marry a brother of her dead husband or if there were no brothers she could marry the closest next of kin willing to take her. As widows, Ruth and Naomi could only look forward to difficult times, but when Naomi heard the news that Ruth had been treated kindly by Boaz, her hope for the future was renewed. Typical of her character, she thought first of Ruth, encouraging her to see if Boaz would take the responsibility of being a kinsman redeemer for her. A kinsman redeemer was a relative who volunteered to take responsibility for the extended family. As Naomi had no more sons, the nearest relative to the deceased husband could become a kinsman redeemer and marry the widow. The nearest relative did not have to marry the widow, if he chose not to, but then the next nearest relative could take his place. If no one chose to help the widow she would probably live in poverty the rest of her life because in Israelite culture the inheritance was passed on to the son or nearest male relative, - not to the wife. To take the sting out of these inheritance rules, there were laws for gleaning and kinsman redeemers.
The advice that Naomi gave Ruth may seem strange, but she was not suggesting a seductive act. In reality Naomi was telling Ruth to act in accordance with Israelite custom and law. Farmers would harvest in the daytime and threshing was often done at night at a community threshing floor, a flat area just outside the village where the wind would catch the chaff and separate it from the grain. Farmers waiting for their turn to use the space to winnow grain would eat, drink and sleep a little. It was common for a servant to lie at the feet of a master and even share a part of his covering. By observing this custom, Ruth would inform Boaz that he could be her kinsman redeemer – that he could find someone to marry her or marry her himself. It was family business. But the story later became beautifully romantic as Ruth and Boaz developed an unselfish love and deep respect for each other. As a foreigner, Ruth may have thought that Naomi’s advice was odd. But Ruth followed the advice because she knew Naomi was kind, trustworthy, and filled with moral integrity. Each of us knows someone, a parent, an older friend or relative who is always looking out for our best interests. Can we be willing to listen to the advice of those older and wiser than we are? The experience and knowledge of such a person can be invaluable. Imagine what Ruth’s life would have been like had she ignored her mother-in-law.
Ruth’s love for her mother-in-law was known and recognized throughout the town. From the beginning of the book of Ruth to the end, her kindness toward others remained unchanged. God brought great blessings out of Naomi’s tragedy, even greater than, “seven sons” or an abundance of heirs. Throughout her tough times, Naomi continued to trust God. God, in his time, blessed her greatly. Even in our sorrow and calamity, God can bring great blessings. Can we be like Naomi, and not turn our backs on God when tragedy strikes, and instead of asking, “How can God allow this to happen to me?” - trust him. He willbe with you in the hard times. For some, the story of Ruth may be just a nice story about a girl who was fortunate. But in reality, the events recorded in Ruth were part of God’s preparations for the births of David and of Jesus, the promised Messiah. Ruth was unaware of the larger purpose in her life, and we will not know the full purpose and importance of our lives either, until we are able to look back from the perspective of eternity. Can we make our choices with God’s eternal view in mind? Taking moral shortcuts and living for short range pleasures are not good ways to move ahead. Because of Ruth’s faithful obedience, her life and legacy were significant even though she couldn’t see all the results.
Those who have given their lives for justice, in devotion to Christ, who have stood for what is right regarding the plight of refugees, immigrants, the poor and marginalised, have left us a significant legacy to emulate.
Can we live in faithfulness to God, knowing that the significance of our lives will extend beyond our life-time? The rewards will outweigh any sacrifice we may need to make. Can we realise that we have a kinsman redeemer in Jesus Christ, who even though he was God, came to earth as a human being in order to save us? By his death on the cross, he has redeemed us from sin and hopelessness and there-by purchased us to be his own possession. This guarantees our eternal inheritance.
Poppies were among the first plants that came from the battlefields of northern France and Belgium during World War I. Red poppies are worn on items of clothing to remember those who died during a war. Can we remember also that Christ died and is our mediator, appearing in God’s presence on our behalf. We can relate to this role and be encouraged by it. Christ is on our side at God’s side. He is our Lord and Saviour. All people die physically, but Christ died so that we would not have to die spiritually. We have confidence in his saving work for us, doing away with sin, past, present and future when he died on the cross, sacrificing himself once for all. He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us deal with present sin, he appears for us now, as our high priest and he promises to return and raise us to eternal life in a world where human strife, war and all sin will be banished.
This is Christ’s gift to us -- Given in a spirit of love, generosity, humility and obedience. Can our gifts to Christ and to others be given in a spirit of gratitude and generosity, and be active in justice and compassion? Amen.