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Once upon a time, in the land of Israel, there was a priest.

This priest was devoted and devout. And he told the people of Israel that all of their trials and tribulations, all of their problems and predicaments, all of their defeats—all of their exiles—were because of their own iniquities… because of the ways that they had failed to keep the law of the Lord their God… and, most of all, because they had married foreign women: Canaanites and Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites, Ammonites and Egyptians, Amorites and Moabites.

So this priest gathered all of the men who had married foreign women. And all of those men confessed their sin… and divorced their wives… and sent them away… along with their children. 

And someone disagreed with that. Someone thought that was wrong. Someone thought that was a bad thing. So someone told a story. And that story became a book. And that book started, more or less…

Once upon a time, in the land of Israel, there was a woman; once upon a time, in the land of Israel, there were two women.

Ten years ago, Naomi left Bethlehem with her husband and her sons and settled in Moab… where the Moabites live. And Naomi’s sons married Moabite women. One married Orpah and the other married Ruth. And they all made a happy little home there.

And then Naomi’s husband died. And then Naomi’s sons died. And all that was left of that happy little home was Naomi… and Orpah… and Ruth.

And Naomi decided to go home to Bethlehem. And she told Orpah and Ruth—she begged Orpah and Ruth—to stay in Moab. And Orpah did. But Ruth… Ruth followed Naomi all the way back to Bethlehem, saying, “Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and there will I be buried.”

And it might be hard for us to understand, but Naomi and Ruth are in a precarious position. They are not helpless. They are not fragile. But they are women in a patriarchal society that values women—not totally, not just for this, but very much—for their ability to have children… to pass the name… to pass the traditions… to pass the faith… on to the next generation.

And things would be different for them if their husbands had left them fortunes or if they had sons who could provide for them… but they have gone from their fathers’ houses, to their husbands’ houses, to the poor house.

And now they are two widows… one old and one young… one from here and one definitely not from here… whose fates are absolutely and inextricably intertwined. And who don’t have a soft spot to land.

But there is a rule in Israel: 

When a man dies and has no children, and leaves a widow behind, another man from his extended family has to marry that woman, so that the widow can live, and the dead can have a child, and the name and the traditions and the faith can be passed on to the next generation.

So Naomi sends Ruth to meet Boaz… to just happen to run into Boaz… to meet-cute Boaz… who is rich and prominent and very much from here. And Ruth does that. And then…

Naomi tells Ruth, “Boaz is working late tonight. So put on your best dress and this perfume. Go to Boaz, and after he has some dinner and some wine and falls asleep on the couch, go get next to him and snuggle up close. And when he wakes up and sees you there, he will tell you what to do.”

Nudge nudge… wink wink… say no more.

So Ruth puts on her best dress and that perfume. She goes to Boaz, and after he has some dinner and some wine and falls asleep on the couch, she gets next to him and snuggles up close. And when he wakes up… startled to see some strange woman in the dark… and before he can get say anything other than, “Who are you?”… she says, more or less, “Marry me? Be the one? It’s going to be someone… and I want it to be you?”

And there’s more to the story, of course, but he does. And Ruth goes from being a foreign widow in a precarious position to being rich and prominent and very much from here. And Naomi gets grand-babies and great-grand-babies and great-great-grand-babies. She gets to pass the name, and the traditions, and the faith on to the next generation.

Naomi and Ruth’s story is not a story that translates particularly well to our day and age. It is a story from a deeply patriarchal society where the lives of women are tightly bound to the lives of men… where a woman can go from her father’s house, to her husband’s house, to the poor house… especially if her husband dies… especially if her husband sends her away.

But at its root, it is a story about how things get passed on to the next generation.

There is a common experience for people my age. Our parents try to give us stuff. At the very least, our parents try to plan on giving us stuff. We are offered china and nativity sets… desks and buffets… dining room tables and baby grand pianos… and more.

And the challenge is that a lot of people my age have exactly the amount of house that we can afford… or exactly the amount of apartment that we can manage… and it’s not like we’re going to live here forever… eventually, we’ll just have to move it, anyway… and everything that comes in needs to be matched by something going out.

And I know it might sound silly, but our parents have things to pass on… and there just isn’t the room. 

And there is this thing… I don’t know if it has a name… let’s call it structural inheritance: If we want to pass the things in life that we have enjoyed on to the next generation, then we also need to pass all of the things that helped us enjoy those things in life on to the next generation.

If we want to pass furniture on to the next generation, then we also need to pass affordable and spacious housing on to the next generation. If we want to pass long family visits on to the next generation, then we also need to pass time off from work on to the next generation. If we want to pass traditions on to the next generation, then we also need to pass the stories and the understandings on to the next generation.

We have to welcome the next generation into the whole of our lives… and graciously accept the offerings that they bring… and let them reshape the world… so that they can be from here… and so that they can make here, better.

And at its root, the story of Naomi and Ruth is a story about how Naomi helps Ruth get into the system… so that she can be part of Israel’s life… to that she can be from here… so that she can make here, better.

It is easy to tell the story of Ruth as a story about… well… Ruth. It is easy to tell a story where Ruth follows Naomi to Bethlehem, and then does everything by herself. But the truth is that Naomi guides Ruth all the way through. 

But Naomi doesn’t just give Ruth her stuff—Naomi doesn’t just give Ruth her expectations—and expect her to work things out. Naomi gives Ruth tools, so that she can make a life of her own. Naomi plants the seeds… and lets Ruth bring them to blossom.

And when Ruth makes here, better, she does that in one of the only ways that a woman in a deeply patriarchal society can: she has a son named Obed… who has a son named Jesse… who has a son named David… who becomes the king of Israel. 

And if you go far enough down that line, eventually, Ruth has a descendant named Jesus, who is God-with-us, who redeems the whole world.

Once upon a time, in the land of Israel, there was a priest.

This priest was devoted and devout. And he told the people of Israel that all of their trials and tribulations, all of their problems and predicaments, all of their defeats—all of their exiles—were because of their own iniquities… because of the ways that they had failed to keep the law of the Lord their God… and, most of all, because they had married foreign women: Canaanites and Hittites, Perizzites and Jebusites, Ammonites and Egyptians, Amorites and Moabites.

So this priest gathered all of the men who had married foreign women. And all of those men confessed their sin… and divorced their wives… and sent them away… along with their children. 

And he was wrong. That was a bad thing.

And we know that because, once upon a time, in the land of Israel, there were two women: Naomi, who was from here; and Ruth, who definitely was not. But Naomi welcomed Ruth into her family, and gave her what she needed to thrive in an unfamiliar land. And that hospitality and that generosity set in motion a chain—from generation to generation—that would give Israel its greatest king… and give the world a savior… and bring about the reign of God.

And that raises a question that I am not going to answer… but that is a very important question:

What could happen if we—as a church, as a community, as a nation—welcomed in the people who aren’t from here… whether those were people from another place… or the generation that’s on its way up… and gave them what they needed to thrive… and accepted the gift that they offered… until they were from here… and, together, we all made here… better?

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