I’ve Come to Test the Timbre of My Heart

Ruth, Chapter 2.  River of Hope Lutheran Church.  August 17, 2014

1795-William-Blake-Naomi-entreating-Ruth-OrpahWe pick up today where we left off last week. To recap chapter 1: Naomi’s husband and 2 sons died, leaving her widowed and her 2 daughters-in-law widowed. A famine had caused them to move into foreign and enemy territory for survival and at the end of the chapter, there are tearful goodbyes and a pledge of loyalty that takes your breath away. The daughters-in-law made their choices: Orpah stayed in her home of Moab and Ruth chose to go with Naomi with that pledge of loyalty: I go where you go. Your gods are my gods. Your people my people. Where you die, I will die.

So Ruth chose to be the foreigner, a single woman which was as good as dead or worse back in this time. Naomi, her mother-in-law was, understandably, angry and bitter and empty from all of her loss. She told the townspeople her name had changed from Naomi, which in Hebrew means “pleasantness” to Mara, which means “bitterness.” She was empty. She was angry at God. That was it.

Now we’re into week 2 and chapter 2 of this great story where famine is being replaced with harvest. Bitterness is being subverted with small and life-giving acts of kindness.pug

I sat with my laptop on my lap (ha!) Saturday morning, beginning to write this sermon. I had set my alarm hopefully for 9am but had been awake and up for quite some time when the alarm on my phone went off, playing a song I’ve been waking up to lately. The song is called Hymn #101 and is by a guy called Joe Pug. You can listen to it right here. 

It’s plaintive and hopeful and this is the part that seemed to sing itself right into this sermon: 

I’ve come to test the timber of my heart

Oh, I’ve come to test the timber of my heart

And I’ve come to be untroubled in my seeking

And I’ve come to see that nothing is for naught

I’ve come to reach out blind

to reach forward and behind

For the more I seek the more I’m sought

Yea, the more I seek the more I’m sought.

listen_to_your_heart_by_screamstBoth Ruth and Naomi are in the midst of testing the timber of their hearts. The quality and sound of their hearts in the midst of all that has transpired. Their hearts could be ruined. Their hearts could stay bitter. Their hearts could remain only broken. After all, they’d been dealt misery and death at a steady rate. And this testing of their hearts is not some abstract concept but is immersed in actual living. How do they test the timber of their hearts? They just get on with it. They figure out how to eat. They go to work. They live.

And just as the song says, I’ve come to be untroubled in my seeking, to see that nothing is for naught. I’ve come to reach out blind to reach forward and behind, for the more I seek the more I’m sought.

As they get on with living, things start to loosen. They don’t know what’s going to happen – they blindly get on with it, not forgetting what has happened but moving forward nonetheless. And as they seek, they are sought.

In the time of the story of Ruth and Naomi, for Ruth to be out gleaning, picking up the leftovers in the field, on her own in a foreign land was the equivalent of walking late at night in the wrong part of New York City. Since this is a family show, let’s just say she was seriously vulnerable to the men of that time.

Ruth was one tough woman and probably didn't wear these...

Ruth was one tough woman and probably didn’t wear these…

Yet, Ruth was no ordinary woman. Yesterday, at the fair, I sat with Ane Fitzgerald on a bench enjoying a chocolate malt and 3 young women walked by clad in shorts, tank tops and barn boots up to their knees. Clearly, these girls know the inside of a barn. Ane leaned over to me and said, “Now those are real girls.” They know what it means to work.

So, too, is Ruth. She’s new in town and not only that, she’s a foreigner and she’s a foreigner who is from a hated land. She’s settled in enemy territory. She is still mourning her husband, the loss of her homeland. And she just gets back to work. Can you hear the timber of her heart? “I’m going to work,” she tells Naomi.

So off she goes to the fields, maybe with field boots on, I don’t know. And follows behind the harvesters and picks up barley left in their wake. Soon, Boaz, the owner of the field comes out and greets everyone and inquires about who the woman is. One of the workers tells Boaz,031009_RAR_Gleaning_Ann2_302 commenting on her work ethic, that she hasn’t taken a break. Boaz has heard about who Ruth since he’s related to Naomi and tells her to stick to his field and he’ll be sure she isn’t mistreated. Her loyalty to Naomi has told Boaz all he needs to know about her character. He even goes so far as to tell his workers to leave some of the good stuff for her – to leave it for her on the ground so she doesn’t have to work as hard.

It seems a small thing to us, doesn’t it? But his small acts of kindness are literally life-giving.

Who has made room for you – who has sought you out to be sure you are ok. Maybe when you’ve traveled and have gotten lost, a local can see clearly that you’re out of your element and helps you get on the right track. Or maybe someone has stuck up for you in the lunchroom at school or made room for you to sit with them. Maybe someone at work has gone out of their way to be sure you weren’t wrongly blamed or taken advantage of on a committee or in an employee review or at the end of a project. Maybe someone has reached out to you in the smallest of ways in the midst of your grief or your battle and given you room to breathe.

This is a story that began in famine and desperate loss. Now there is a harvest and the making of a new home. There is beginning to be plenty where that only been nothing. And it’s through field hands and a farmer and servants that God’s abundance begins to overflow into the lives of Naomi and Ruth.

Do you see how regular that is? Do you see how normal that is? How is God’s astonishingly normal abundance being worked out in your life? How is God using you or a stranger or a family member to bring abundance? Because I am certain God’s abundance is overflowing in your lives. You just have to look for the normal stuff to see it.

Amen. Thanks be to God.