Wednesday, May 5, 2021

May 5 - Ruth 3, Acts 17

 Key verse: Ruth 3:10

Big idea: Lovingkindness is at the heart of true character.

Alfred Hitchcock coined the term "MacGuffin" to refer to an element that is theoretically the center of a film's plot, but could actually be replaced with something else and exists only to pull the story along. He called it, "The thing the actors on the screen worry about and the audience doesn't care about." The classic example is the military secrets in Hitchcock's own Thirty-Nine Steps, but the One Ring in The Lord of the Rings, the travel papers in Casablanca, or the meaning of the word "Rosebud" in Citizen Kane are all classic examples. On paper, those are what those stories are all about, but they are ultimately passive plot devices, a means to an end.

By this point in Ruth, you might start to think of Naomi as a MacGuffin. Things have happened to her (a famine, the death of her husband and sons, a faithful daughter in law), but she seems only to react and not act herself. She is the way that God brought Ruth to Israel but has otherwise been passive. But in chapter 3, things change. Naomi turns out to be an insightful and wise woman, making a plan for Ruth to have the "rest" of marriage. It had been about two months since she had first met Boaz, and he was a man of character and kindness, ideal for a husband. Naomi gave her specific instructions: go to him in secret (there was no need to pressure or embarrass him). Uncover his feet when he was asleep with the others after a long day of harvest, and lay down there. When the chill of the night gradually woke Boaz up, he would wake and find Ruth there, who could then propose marriage. It would be a unique kind of Hebrew marriage: because Boaz was a close relative (a kinsman redeemer), their first child would be legally considered the son of her deceased husband and his heir, to carry on the family name. 

Teens/Adults: Judah, the father of Boaz's tribe, sinned grievously in a story about this kind of kinsman redeemer marriage. Genesis 38 tells the story of how his daughter-in-law Tamar remained childless because no one in the family was willing to have his deceased brother's heir, and Tamar pretended to be a prostitute who was solicited by Judah. Both of these woman, Tamar and Ruth, are in the ancestry of Jesus. In Tamar's case, the responsibility of the kinsman redeemer went unanswered. It adds a certain tension to the story: will Boaz be like his ancestor, or will he be noble and kind?

Naomi's plan worked. But there is a wrinkle. There is another man, who is a closer relative, that would have something like "right of first refusal." Boaz cannot redeem this family if the closer relative chooses to instead. Would this other redeemer be the same kind of man as Boaz? Ruth did not want to marry him because he was the youngest or most attractive from a physical point-of-view, but because he was a man of character and integrity. Boaz did not fall in love with Ruth because of her family origin (she was a Moabite), because of her wealth (she was deeply poor) but because of the character she showed in her relationship with her mother-in-law. Our faithfulness reveals our hearts.

Discussion idea: Compare Ruth 2:12 and 3:9. How does Ruth use Boaz's own prayer to persuade him? Now read James 2:16. How does God often answer our prayers for others?

Prayer focus: Ask God to make you a person of lovingkindness, and to value faithful integrity in others more than the superficial things that so often distract us.

Key Verses: Acts 17:6-7

Big Idea: The Church of Jesus turned the world upside down.

If you were going to turn the world upside down with some institution, what would it be? Maybe the School - education for the masses might change their behavior. For the less optimistic, perhaps the Military - if bad actors could be stopped, where would evil come from? Taking your cue from the way the media uses the term, you might suggest Science as the institution which could solve the problems that ail us. None of these are bad, but none of them really change the world. Schools help students face the world better, the military removes existential threats, and scientists answer a certain set of questions. But what about problems that run deeper than a test or a gun can strike? What about problems that run so widely that every institution is built on a crumbling foundation? When the world itself is upside down, none of the institutions of the world can fix the issue, any more than a hamster can move her cage by running in her wheel. Something outside of the world, but that overlaps with it, is necessary to set the world itself right again. So the institution that you least suspect is the one you actually needed: the Church. 

While most so-called revolutions simply change one tyrant for another, the Lord Jesus offers to be a different kind of King. This King was not a new Caesar, come to accomplish the same things with bigger weapons or better propaganda. Rather, He came to win by dying and to ascend His throne by humility. Such a radical approach could not have a muted response. The frustration of many pastors at the seeming reluctance of people to see the depth of the message is expressed in a quote whose originator is unknown: "Wherever the Apostle Paul went there was a revival or a riot. Wherever I go they serve tea." Our purpose is not to rearrange deck chairs on the Titanic, but to turn an upside-down world right-side up again. People will either rejoice or rebel, but when the message is understood, they must respond.

Discussion Idea: What are some attitudes, beliefs, or values in our world that are upside down? How does Jesus turn them right-side up?

Prayer Focus: Ask God to adjust your vision so you see things from a biblical perspective and help turn things in the right direction.

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