When we first met Naomi, she was a woman who seemed to have everything go wrong in her life. There is a famine and she travels with her husband and sons to a foreign land. While they are there, her husband and her sons die. She decides to travel back to her home town of Bethlehem and Ruth, her faithful daughter-in-law comes with her. Once back in Bethlehem things begin to look up. Ruth goes out to glean with the other widows and just so happens to go gleaning in the field of an extra-ordinarily generous man named Boaz, who just so happens to be one of Naomi’s closest relatives. He is so generous that not only does he provide water and meals for Ruth while she while she is gleaning, but he instructs his workers to be sure there is extra grain for her to glean and to allow her to even pick grain they have not yet harvested. This allows for the two women to have not only enough to eat but enough to sell and provide for all their needs.
And so we enter into a new phase of our story. After the continued generosity of Boaz goes on for the entirety of the Barley harvest and through the wheat harvest as well, we see a complete change in Naomi. The Widow, Naomi, who lost her two sons to sickness and disease in a foreign land, who returned so distraught that wanted to change her name from “Sweetness” to “Bitterness”, after watching the faithfulness of God poured out upon her through the generosity of Boaz, she becomes a completely new woman. And she hatches a plan; a plan to make sure that she and Ruth continue to benefit from Boaz’s favor, a plan that will assure that they will never go hungry.
She calls Ruth over and gives her specific instructions to about what to do, when to do it and what to say and by the end of the chapter Ruth and Boaz are effectively married, with only a small issue concerning Naomi’s husband’s land and the only other relative of her husband who is a closer related to her than Boaz. But don’t worry, Boaz will fix all that by the end of the day.
You see Naomi’s plan is basically for Ruth to take matters into her own hands, there has to be only one reason Boaz is being so very generous to Ruth, he must think she is awfully pretty. And Naomi is sick of waiting for him to do something about it. Clearly he needs a little nudge, now granted, the nudge she proposes for Ruth to carry out, is just that a proposal. When she lays at Boaz’s feet she is effectively asking for him to marry her, when he spreads his cloak over her, he is in fact accepting that marriage. Spreading one’s cloak over a woman was a sign that you were married. By morning the two of them are effectively married.
The only problem is this issue of the land. You see the land basically belongs to the son Ruth could potentially have with Boaz. But, the responsibility of taking care of the land, was the responsibility of Naomi’s closest relative. He is the one who is supposed to be tilling and planting and harvesting the land and basically holding it until any son Ruth might have comes of age. So now that Ruth is married and could actually possibly have a son, it is not really in his interest to take care of that land. Boaz is going to go out and settle the issue with the land so that they can properly celebrate their new marriage with their whole community.
There are two movies that come to mind when I think about Naomi and the plan she hatches. Both of which so happen to feature Harrison Ford. The first one is from the first Star Wars movie where Luke and Leia are trying to escape and find themselves at the edge of a precipice with nowhere to go. There is no way to go forward without falling and no way to go back, so Luke, pulls a grappling hook out of his utility belt, because what good utility belt does not come with a collapsible mini-grappling hook? He is able to use it snag a piece of something overhead and the pair, with a kiss for good luck, and a whole lot of hope that their cable will hold, are able to escape nearly being captured by swinging across the precipice to safety. The two must come up with a risky plan in order to move forward.
The other movie scene this makes me think of is when Indiana Jones comes to a similar kind of precipice and must make a literal “leap of faith” in order to go on. He must walk out into the precipice trusting that he will not fall, in order to discover that there is a perfectly camouflaged walkway right in front of him that allows him to cross safely. Indie has to move forward trusting that there is a walkway in front of him that will keep him from falling.
In both situations the main characters must come up with a plan and then move forward on faith, trusting that things will work out. This is exactly what Naomi and Ruth do in our chapter today. Ruth and Naomi have come to the end of the Harvest. God has provided for them for this season. But she and Ruth are at an edge of a precipice, the harvest is over. They might have enough grain stored that will allow them to eat for a while, but they probably don’t have enough to eat all through the winter, the planting season, and growing season, while saving enough aside to plant in Naomi’s husband’s fields, so they are not continually in this same place each year. And they still have yet to find someone who will step up and help them till, plant and harvest when the time comes. They are standing at the edge and need to find a way forward, so Naomi comes up with a risky plan. She is Luke fumbling around in her utility belt for the grappling hook so they can swing across. Once she has the plan, she goes to Ruth and lays it out for her, telling Ruth that she needs to trust her. Ruth needs to take a leap of faith. She needs to step out over the precipice and trust that God will be there for the two of them. Faithful (that is what Ruth means after all) needs to have faith and trust that God will not let her fall. Ruth must act on that plan in faith trusting that things will work out as Naomi trusts they will.
The women do not just wait for God to act, they do not just keep doing what they are doing hoping that God will make things better for them. They act, they come up with a plan and they trust God to walk with them through that plan. They trust God to be there for them, just as God proved to be faithful to Naomi, when Ruth clung to her; just as God was going before her and leading her when Ruth happened upon Boaz’s field; just as God had been providing for them through the genericity of Boaz. Now Naomi was trusting that God would continue to work in their lives; through this plan has put together that will end with Ruth having the security she needs through a husband, and both of them having the food they need to live, if not from Boaz himself, from the planting and harvesting of Naomi’s land (because it is the issue of the land that Boaz will have settled by the end of the day), and if all goes well (spoiler alert they do) Ruth will have a baby, which will ensure the women’s future as they age. This is not just any plan, this is the plan that will put everything right, the plan that will assure that in the end Naomi, who returned to Bethlehem empty, will forever be made full, that plan that will give them a hope and future.
These women move forward trusting that God is with them, that God is in their planning, that God is in guiding them and instructing them. They move forward in the faith that God is there with them, just as God has proved to be there with them all along the way.
There is a saying I hear everyone once in a while that goes like this, “We make plans, and God laughs.” But I don’t think God laughs at our plans. I think God created us to be creative beings. God gave us brains. God gave us the ability to reason and to dream. God the creator, created us in the image of God to be creative beings.
God gave Naomi the ability to hatch a crazy plan. God gave Ruth the gumption to go through with it and to figure out what to do when things did not go exactly as Naomi predicted. God did not laugh when Naomi made her plan. No, God created Naomi, so that she would be the kind of woman who could come up with a crazy plan like this, sending her daughter-in-law to the threshing floor, a male only domain, to basically propose marriage to him. And God gave Ruth the spunk to hear Naomi’s plan and care it out. God made these two women, and gave them the very abilities they would need to carry them through this time in their lives.
God created us with all our gifts and skills and abilities, so we can use them, and God works in them and through them when we use them, trusting that God is with us as we do so.
I am a planner. I like setting up flow charts and to do lists. I like to have everything laid out. I like to know what is coming and what we are doing next. I can hear Mike inwardly groan when I start to lay out the agenda for the next few days or for our upcoming vacation. I think many of you know this about me, it is not something I could hide, even if I tried.
I think most of you have seen my sermon planning chart. Once a year I sit down and plan out 18 months of sermons. I pour over scriptures, and choose what I will preach. I put together serieses, just like this one. And even write little notes for nearly every week.
Shortly before the end of one series and the beginning of the next I put together notes for each week, so that the sermons fit together and work in sequence. I do this because I love to do it and it helps me as I move through the year as a preacher. But I also do it because God gave me the gift of being a planner. I have joy inside me that loves looking at the chart and seeing where my sermons are going and uses that to help make me the preacher I am. I enjoy this time of year (because Summer is when I work on the next year’s chart).
Each year I put together the chart prayerfully, in faith believing that God is in the planning, that God is at work throughout the process that brings each Sunday morning sermon into being. From the moment I put together the chart, to the plan ahead times I have for a series, to the weekly studies, to the writing, the rewriting, and the early Sunday morning editing, all the way up through my actually preaching the sermon and you hearing it, God is at work in and through it all.
God is at work in the things you do. You may not be a planning person like I am, but God made you person you are, and is able to work in and through all the gifts, skills, and joys that you have. God directs you through the things you do on a daily and weekly basis using who you are. God is at work in the things you do that move you forward. God is guiding and directing you just as God was guiding and directed Naomi in the plan she put together. And just as God guided and directed Ruth as she carried out the plan and improvised on the spot as she moved through it.
God is at work in our lives, in the things we do. Often times the most mundane things we do that help us get from point A to point B God is able to use. God is at work in our plans, working in our plans and with our plans, and in everything we do.
Sometimes it is easy to forget that, or get frozen in place, waiting for God to move or to direct us, when what we really need to do is take the leap of faith and trust that God is there in the leap providing a path on which to walk. Moving forward past a precipice is not always easy. Finding the direction we need to go is not always clearly laid out. Rarely does God speak to us through a burning bush, in a great and booming voice, or even with a clearly marked road sign. Most of the time God is at work in our inclinations, in our gifts and skills, just as God was in Naomi’s plans and Ruth’s actions and words on the threshing floor. God works in mundane ways throughout our lives setting the path before us, and sometimes all it takes is for us to put one foot in front of the other and take the first step for us to truly be able to see the way.