Revisiting Ruth to Glean Generosity

This sermon was written for Third Presbyterian Church for worship on May 19th 2019. The Scripture used for this sermon was not the lectionary for the day. Ruth 1:1-18 and Mark 12:28-34 are the texts are paired for Lectionary Year B the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.

The Executive Director of Repair the World Pittsburgh visited with us and helped us to plant seeds (on toilet paper) during lent. We scheduled this Sunday as a day for us to work in the community garden where these seeds would be planted. And the ladies of the church prepared a garden party after church so we could have lunch before working in the garden. They used seed packets as table decorations and we donated those packets to Repair the World.

Today we are going to fulfill a promise made in the winter, when the ground was frozen, and no one was thinking about planting seeds.  No one, except Zach Block the Executive Director of Repair the World Pittsburgh.  He had plans for us to plant seeds together, vegetable seeds for a community garden, and seeds of friendship.  Our hope is to nurture those seeds, to garden together, to watch our partnership bloom, with hopes that the harvest will feed our whole community.

I met Zach through our mutual friend Michael Stanton, you know Michael as the Director of Open Hand Ministries.  We were meeting to make plans for our mission speaker series.  The mission committee was hoping to include some mission projects that were new to us or that had a multi-faith element.  Repair the World was both. 

Repair the World was founded in 2009 to make meaningful service a defining element of American Jewish life. Repair mobilizes tens of thousands of young Jews to volunteer in tackling pressing local needs each year, and Repair equips communities and partners to do the same. These volunteers help transform neighborhoods, cities, and lives through meaningful service experiences rooted in Jewish values, learning, and history.”

Repair the World Pittsburgh doesn’t do any project alone, they reach out other groups in the Pittsburgh area to form partnerships in order to transform our communities.  Later today, we will partner with them to work in a community garden that will provide food to people in our area who need it. 

Earlier this spring while we were placing seeds and a starchy mixture onto toilet paper, Zach shared stories with us about the work that Repair the World is doing in the Pittsburgh area and he shared stories about how his faith informed his understanding of the work he does.  Later he emailed me the definitions of the terms he used, and the scripture verses he associated with those terms (in English and Hebrew of course). 

Definitions:

Pe’ah: corner of the field left for the needy to harvest

Leket: crops that are dropped during harvest which are left in the field for the needy

Shichecha: crops that are harvested and bundled, but then forgotten in the field; these are also left for the needy

טי קרפ ארקיו :טקלת אל ךריצק טקלו רצקל ךדש תאפ הלכת אל םכצזרא ריזק תא םכרזקבי  :םכיהלא קוקי ינא םתא בזעט רגלו ינעל טקלת אל ךמרכ טרפ ללועת אל ךמרכ

Leviticus 19:9-10 – Pe-ah (corners) and Leket (gleaning)

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap all the way to the edges of your field, or gather the gleanings of your harvest. You shall not pick your vineyard bare or gather the fallen fruit of your vineyard; you shall leave them for the poor and the stranger: I the Lord am your God.

טי קוספ רכ קרפ םירבד

ןעמל קוקי הנמלאלו םותיל רגל ותחקל בושת אל הדשב דמע תחכשו ךדשב רצקת יכ :ךידי השעמ לכב ךיהלא קוקי ךכרבי

Deuteronomy 24:19 – Shicheca

When you reap the harvest in your field and overlook a sheaf in the field, do not turn back to get it; it shall go to the stranger, the fatherless and the widow, in order that the Lord your God may bless you in all your undertaking.

When I think about lives affected by gleaning, I think of Ruth and her mother-in-law Naomi.  You may remember a sermon I gave a while back about Ruth and Naomi: How to fish without Dad, I’m going to recall just a little of their story from that sermon, picking up where our scripture reading (Ruth 1:1-18) left off.

I imagine Ruth silently standing beside her mother-in-law.  Her companionship is a blessing to Naomi and even though this “family” doesn’t see it now, there is a potential for their story to take a positive turn.  After all, it is the beginning of the barley harvest.

The barley harvest is good news for Ruth and Naomi.  When the barley is being harvested not every piece is taken up by the workers and the less fortunate are allowed to glean after the workers have gone through.  Ruth fits all three of the categories of needy people given permission to glean in the fields of others: the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow.  So, Ruth goes out to glean.  

As chance would have it she happens upon the field belonging to Boaz. Not only has Ruth chanced upon the field of Boaz but also, he happens to come to the field. Ruth “finds favor” with Boaz.  Which in Bible speak means, she’s cute and he would like to have her for his own.  And we get hints that she might be thinking the same of him.

Boaz sets Ruth up for gleaning success.  She is able to glean in one day many days’ worth of grain.  He also allows her to eat with him and his servants.  Normally, those who are gleaning would not be part of this meal.  Ruth eats till she is satisfied and has leftovers to take to Naomi.  

When Ruth comes home with a huge amount of barley plus food prepared for Naomi to eat, Naomi realizes that something morethan gleaning happened today.  

When Naomi finds out that it is Boaz’s field (a relative of her deceased husband), she tells Ruth, he is one of ourrelatives.  More specifically, the kind of relative that could help them, the kind of relative that has some role in family legal affairs, the kind of relative that has the power to make things right.  Ruth might be able to provide Naomi with something more than food (grandbabies).  There is a hope for their family to be redeemed. 

Naomi provides a plan to make this marriage a reality by having Ruth make Boaz an offer he won’t refuse, at night, after she has bathed and anointed herself with oil. 

When Boaz finds her at his feet that night, he is glad that Ruth did not go after the young men and is happy she wants to be with him.  Naomi’s plan is quickly accomplished.  Boaz gives Ruth a large measure of barley seeds, which she brings home to Naomi.  Their little family is full of seeds, full of promise. 

Seeds remind me of promises. 

Seeds remind me that we have hope and a future. 

Seeds remind me that planting a garden is a small gesture that puts into motion a new creation, a new world, a new way of living. 

For Ruth and Naomi, the gift of seeds is a promise for a family and a future.  Ruth does marry Boaz and they have a son.  And we can imagine that the barely seeds will be planted in the fields that belong to their new family, on land that their son will inherit. 

Gleaning in the fields was a temporary solution for Ruth and Naomi.  They found themselves in a terrible position and through the generosity of Boaz, they survived, and they survived to become people who will plant seeds, bring in a harvest, and leave food for others in need. 

Loving God, and loving others, who are also children of God is at the center of generosity.  Planting seeds that you will not harvest for yourself is an act of generosity.  Boaz planted his fields knowing that some of those crops would be left for those less fortunate.  Boaz planted seeds in hope of his own future and for the future of his community, and the future of his unexpected new family.  A family that continues to plant seeds that they will not harvest for themselves but leave for others in need, as an act of generosity and love to neighbors.

We, along with our Jewish brothers and sisters are part of Boaz’s family planting seeds.  When we plant seeds in a community garden, we are participating in the tradition of the family of God.  We plant seeds for a better world, not for ourselves but for our whole community. The seeds we plant today will be promises of love and hope for the future of our community.

There are two commandments that Jesus knew from his Jewish faith and that he passed on to us. (Mark 12: 30-31) “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” And when we live into those commands, we are not far from the kingdom of God.

Tasting the lettuce from the toilet paper seeds
Weeding and planting

Call to worship: Psalm 146
L: Praise the LORD! Praise the LORD, O my soul!
P: I will praise the LORD as long as I live; I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
L:  Do not put your trust in princes, in mortals, in whom there is no help.
P:  When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day their plans perish.
L: Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the LORD their God,  who made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who keeps faith forever; who executes justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry. P: The LORD sets the prisoners free; the LORD opens the eyes of the blind. The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down; the LORD loves the righteous.
L: The LORD watches over the strangers; he upholds the orphan and the widow, but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
P: The LORD will reign forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the LORD!

Prayer of Confession (Prayers from Vanderbilt Lectionary and Book of Common Worship p. 59 #6 adapted and blended)

Holy God, you live and move among us and yet we do not acknowledge your presence among us.  We have not loved you with a pure heart, nor have we loved our neighbors as ourselves.  We have not done justice, loved kindness or walked humbly with you, our God.  Have mercy on us, O God, in your loving-kindness.  In your great compassion, cleanse us from our sin.  Beloved Companion,
you deal with us kindly in steadfast love, lifting up those bent low with care and sustaining the weak and oppressed.  Release us from our anxious fears, that we, holding fast to your commandments, may honor you with all that we are and all that we have. Amen.

Offertory: 1 John 3:17-18 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s good and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?  Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.

Eternal God teach us to love you not only in mind and heart but also in purpose and action, that we may love the children of the earth, in Jesus Christ. Amen. Prayers from Vanderbilt Lectionary

Pastoral Prayer:  Borrowed one of Trip’s (Former Senior Pastor who gifted me digital copies of prayers he wrote and adapted)

 We thank you, O God for your love for us. Love that reaches out to accept us, wherever we are, whoever we are. Love that demands a lot, but at the same time, somehow, amazingly, enables us to meet those demands. Love that reassures, affirms, prompts, challenges, and overwhelms us with the completeness of its response. Help us, your people, held within the security of your love, to risk showing that same love to others. May our love, too, be known for its abundance, its readiness to speak out and its healing power.

Hymns:

#288 I Sing the Mighty Power of God

#414 As Those of Old Their Firstfruits Brought

#132 Come, Great God of All the Ages

The organist and choir director choose beautiful music to go along with the garden theme in worship. I was especially touched that the choir director chose “In the Garden” a beloved hymn that is not in our hymnal as the choir anthem.

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