Monday, October 24, 2011

Leave them for her to glean

Ruth 2: 1-16, page 242
Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain, behind someone in whose sight I may find favor.”
She said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she went. She came and gleaned in the field behind the reapers. As it happened, she came to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the family of Elimelech. Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, “The Lord be with you.” They answered, “The Lord bless you.”
Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, “To whom does this young woman belong?”
The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, “She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. She said, ‘Please, let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.’ So she came, and has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.”
Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Now listen, my daughter, do not go to glean in another field or leave this one, but keep close to my young women. Keep your eyes on the field that is being reaped, and follow behind them. I have ordered the young men not to bother you. If you get thirsty, go to the vessels and drink from what the young men have drawn.”
Then she fell prostrate, with her face to the ground, and said to him, “Why have I found favor in your sight, that you should take notice of me, when I am a foreigner?”
But Boaz answered her, “All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told to me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. May the Lord reward you for your deeds, and may you have a full reward from the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come for refuge!”
Then she said, “May I continue to find favor in your sight, my lord, for you have comforted me and spoken kindly to your servant even though I am not one of your servants.”
At mealtime Boaz said to her, “Come here, and eat some of this bread, and dip your morsel in the sour wine.” So she sat beside the reapers, and he heaped up for her some parched grain. She ate until she was satisfied, and she had some left over. When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
It’s amazing what gets left behind.
Take pretzels for example. I bet as many broken pretzels get left behind as fully formed pretzels are produced; but that was before the discovery of pretzel pieces. You can buy pretzel pieces at Kroger, and what they are I’m sure, are pretzels that broke during the production process repackaged and renamed as pretzel pieces – though really they’re just broken pretzels.
It’s not unlike mixing scraps of wood with glue and calling it particle board or mixing up scraps of meat with salt and flavoring and calling it a hot dog – it’s economical using up every little bit, it’s not wasting, and it’s making someone a lot more money than if they were throwing the stuff out or giving it away.
The owner wants to make as much money as possible, so why not take advantage of what’s left behind.
Boaz, as the owner of the field, doesn’t want the reapers who are harvesting his grain to let anything go to waste – he wants them to get all that they possibly can. However, we know from this lesson from the book of Ruth that there is a whole group of people whose survival depends on what gets left behind.
They’re called gleaners, and without any fields of their own, without any other means to provide for their families, the most desperate people in the land follow behind the reapers picking over what they leave behind.
I had never put much thought into what their lives must have been like until John Satterwhite called me out to a corn field on Mt. Pleasant Pike. I was having a great time riding with him in the air conditioned cab of the combine, and then he started talking about how hard it must have been for Ruth and Naomi, and next thing I knew he had me walking behind him gleaning as many corn kernels as I could find for a little hands on education.
Maybe you can imagine it. I wasn’t really dressed for the occasion, but there I was in the middle of that corn field with a grocery bag looking for corn kernels left behind from the combine. There wasn’t much left either – not that I was thinking too much about it, I was mostly just hoping no one I knew drove by.
It’s a little strange to be walking around in a corn field with just a bag, looking through the broken stalks hoping to find something you can eat, but that’s what Ruth was doing. She was out there alone, known to belong to no one, and there’s a reason Boaz orders the young men not to bother her – not only was she in a humiliating position, she was in a dangerous one as well.
Leaving as little as possible behind the reapers worked, as the more they harvested the more money they would make, but the more they harvested the less there would be for the gleaners who followed.
But then Boaz does something strange. When Ruth got up to glean again after mealtime he instructed his young men, “Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.”
I’m sure these young men must have wondered why Boaz was instructing them to do this, and I’m sure they must have thought it was bad business, but profits were no longer his chief priority. He saw Ruth, not as a gleaner, but as a person, and with what Boaz was willing to leave behind she filled her empty belly with parched grain, filled her bag with grain to bring back to Naomi, and survived to became not just a person but a great hero of scripture so revered that her name is listed in the great genealogy of the gospel of Matthew. She survived, but not only survived, joined the ranks of Abraham, King David, and Jesus Christ himself.
She could have been just a gleaner, but with what he was willing to leave behind, with the profit he was willing to sacrifice, she became something else – she became “and Boaz the father of Obed by Ruth, and Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of King David.”
There in the field Boaz was willing to give up a bushel of barley, and with that barley Ruth did more than survive, she became the great grandmother of King David himself.
It didn’t have to happen this way – she could have died nameless, just another gleaner in the field, but because of the kindness of Boaz she became Ruth.
Isn’t that a horrible fate – namelessness? But this is the state of so many who depend on what we leave behind, and the more we keep for ourselves the less there will be for those who depend on what gets left behind.
Last week I was reading Sound Off as I always do. A caller called in the following to the Daily Herald: “I was recently at the intersection of the Polk Home and the Methodist Church downtown admiring the home, the fountains and much hard work the lady does to take care of the flowers there, when I noticed that we had a tour bus (of people) getting ready to go on a cart-drawn ride. And then I looked and I see our permanent homeless resident’s shopping cart full of old clothes and anything else that could be left there. I was so embarrassed. I cannot believe that we put up with him leaving things out in public – especially when we have guests. It’s a disgrace.”
His name is Melvin, but knowing that demands seeing him as more than a disgrace. Knowing his name demands acknowledging the fact that he’s a person; a person who has been fed by the members of this church who are less concerned with the shopping cart full of old clothes that he leaves junking up the prettiest corner in the city and more concerned with leaving enough behind for him to survive.
For a long time there was another who walked the streets of Columbia to the embarrassment of some. Last month she passed away, and while she might have died nameless, just another of the faceless poor, because of the generosity of a handful of members of this church she was given a gravestone that reads “Nancy Oliver.”
I’m sure that money could have gone to something else; members of our church didn’t have to leave that money behind for her – but what a gift it is to remember someone’s name.
Here in this place names are learned. Children in Fellowship Hall, in this sanctuary, in Kroger hear their names called by you – and it makes all the difference in the world.
This is one of the great purposes of the church – to call them by name, and to nourish them with what we leave behind so that their future might be one where they know who they are – that they are known by God and know that God calls them daughter and son.
Moses went up from the plains of Moab, the same land that Ruth called home, and climbed to Mount Nebo where God showed him the whole land that he had only dreamed of, only to learn that he would never cross himself. In this moment he knew that he had been walking across the desert not for himself, but for those who followed.
It’s amazing what gets left behind.
Moses left behind a whole land of promise for his people, Boaz left behind the grain that helped Ruth to survive and become one of scripture’s great heroes.
And what will you leave?
I pray that you will leave behind enough of what you could keep for yourself to feed every homeless person who would go nameless and hungry without your kindness.
I pray you will leave behind enough of what you could keep for yourself so that every person in this room might know who they are in the eyes of God.
I pray that you will leave behind enough of what you could keep for yourself so that every child, every child’s child, down to third, fourth, and fifth generation will be able to come into the place and hear some word worth hearing.
It takes you leaving something behind. It takes you making people more important than profits. It takes you giving up what you could keep for yourself – but what you leave behind may well be the food to feed the heroes of our future.
Next Sunday you will be asked to make your contribution to this church, and I pray that you will consider how much you can leave behind this week. The more you leave behind the less you will have, but the more you leave behind the brighter the future.

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