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"Redeemer with a Capital R"

Presented on The Lutheran Hour on December 9, 2018
By Rev. Dr. Michael Zeigler, Lutheran Hour Speaker
(Q&A Topic:Redeemer with a Capital R)
Copyright 2020 Lutheran Hour Ministries

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Text: Ruth 3-4

There's a young lady I know named Aminata, and she likes yellow tennis shoes. Aminata was the first new American to be named valedictorian at her eighth-grade graduation from her middle school. When she was only about a year old, she and her family immigrated to the United States of America, much like my family did about four generations ago. Also, like my family, Aminata was welcomed into the neighborhood by the people of a local church. When Aminata was old enough, her family enrolled her in kindergarten at the Christian school associated with the church. Years later when she was in the fifth grade, I was working at that school part-time and I had the privilege of being Aminata's teacher, one of her teachers. I wasn't surprised when I heard that she was going to be valedictorian of her class. She was an outstanding student.

That night at graduation, she addressed her fellow students. She said to them, "We've learned many valuable lessons, but the most important is to know our identity as a child of God." That Sunday, Aminata's grandmother gave a speech to the whole congregation at their church and she told them, "I want you to know that since I came to the United States of America, this church has been there for me as the only family that I have in this country." She told them, "You are the only family that my family has in this country." For Aminata and her family, the people of that church, that school, and others in the community were behaving as redeemers with a lowercase R. A redeemer with a lowercase R is someone who offers their hand to welcome an outsider and treats them as an extended family member in the Name of Jesus, Redeemer with a capital R.

Again, a redeemer with a lowercase R is someone who offers their hand to welcome an outsider, treating them as an extended family member in the Name of Jesus, Redeemer with a capital R. A redeemer with a lowercase R is a redeemed redeemer, an imperfect redeemer who nonetheless represents the royal Redeemer, the real Redeemer, Jesus. How does a redeemer with a lowercase R do it? By doing what Jesus did, extending His hands, expending His life to include the outcasts, to welcome the outsider, treating them as dearly loved members of God's ever-extending family. That's a redeemer with a lowercase R. I'm drawing this definition of a redeemer with a lowercase R from the account of Ruth, Naomi, and Boaz, recorded in the book of Ruth in the Old Testament.

Last week I shared the first half of the book of Ruth with you and this week we're going to pick up where we left off. I mentioned that to understand the book of Ruth, you need to know about three things: you need to know about Moabites, widows, and harvest time. First, Moabites. Ruth is a Moabite. She immigrated from Moab into Israel. She was an outsider. Second, she was a widow, along with her mother-in-law Naomi. Both of their husbands had died and so that meant they were outsiders on another level. In the ancient Middle East, if you were a widow you had to wait to be received into another household. You had to depend on the people in your community for your survival. Ruth and Naomi were both widows and they moved back to Israel, where Naomi was originally from, to her hometown of Bethlehem, arriving there during harvest time.

Harvest time is a busy time and they run across this very busy farmer named Boaz. Boaz, in spite of his hectic schedule, is inspired by the Lord, the God of Israel, to become their redeemer with a lowercase R. He didn't know it at the time, but he was acting in the Name of and for the sake of the One who would redeem him.

This is how it happened, picking up the narrative in chapter 3. One day, Ruth's mother-in-law Naomi said to her, "I must find a home for you, my daughter, where you will be well provided for. Now Boaz, with whose maidservants you've been working is a relative of ours. Tonight, he will be separating the barley grain on the threshing floor. Take a bath, put on perfume, get dressed in your best clothes, and go down to the threshing floor, but do not let him know that you are there until after he has finished eating and drinking. When he lies down, note the place where he is lying. Then go, uncover his feet, and lay down. He will tell you what to do."

Ruth said to her mother-in-law, "I will do whatever you say." She went down to the threshing floor and did exactly as her mother-in-law told her to do. After Boaz had finished eating and drinking and was in good spirits, he went to lay down at the far end of the grain pile. Ruth approached quietly, uncovered his feet, and laid down. In the middle of the night, something startled the man. He turned and look, there was a woman at his feet. "Who are you?" He said. "I am your servant, Ruth." She answered. "Spread the corner of your garment over me because you are a redeemer of our family." "Oh, the Lord blessed you, my daughter. This kindness is greater than what you showed me at first. You have not run after the younger men, whether rich or poor. Now, my daughter, do not be afraid. I will do for you all that you ask. All the people of my town know that you are a woman of noble character. Although it is true I am a redeemer of our family, there is one who is more closely related than I. Rest here for the night and in the morning if he wants to do his duty as your guardian redeemer, then good, let him redeem you. But if not, as surely as the Lord lives, I will do it. Rest here until morning."

So she lay at his feet until morning but got up before anyone could be recognized. Boaz said, "No one must know that a woman has come down to the threshing floor." He also said, "Bring the cloak that you were wearing and spread it out here." And she did so. And he poured into it six measures of barley grain and put the bundle on her and went back to town. When Ruth returned to her mother-in-law, Naomi said, "How did it go, my daughter?" And Ruth told her all that Boaz had done for her and she also said, "And he gave me these six measures of barley grain and said, 'Don't go back to your mother-in-law empty handed.'" Naomi said, "You wait, my daughter, and see what happens, because the man will not rest until this matter is settled today." Meanwhile, Boaz went to the town gate and sat down there just as the guardian redeemer, whom he had mentioned, came along.

He said to him, "My friend, come here. Have a seat." And he came over and sat down. Then Boaz got 10 of the elders of the town and told them, "Sit here, sit here." And they did so. Then he said to the guardian redeemer, "Naomi, who has come back from Moab, is selling the piece of land that belonged to our relative, Elimelech. I thought that I should bring the matter to your attention and suggest that you buy it in the presence of these here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you will redeem it, then do so. But if not, let me know, because no one has the right to do it except you and I am next in line." "I will redeem it," he said. Then Boaz said to him, "On the day that you buy the land from Naomi, you will also receive Ruth, the Moabite. In order to raise up the name of the dead, along with his inheritance." At this, the guardian redeemer said, "Well, then I cannot redeem it, because I might endanger my own inheritance. You redeem it yourself."

Now in earlier times in Israel, in order for the transaction and redemption of property to become final, one party would take off his sandal and give it to the other. The guardian redeemer said to Boaz, "Buy it yourself." And he took off his sandal. Then Boaz said to the elders and all the people, "Today, you are witnesses that I have bought from the hand of Naomi all that belongs to Elimelech, and all that belongs to Chilion, and all that belongs to Mahlon. And I have also received Ruth, the Moabite, Mahlon's widow, to be my wife. In order to raise up the name of the dead, along with his inheritance, that his name would not be cut off from among his people and from his hometown. Today, you are witnesses." And all the elders and the people at the gate said, "We are witnesses." They said, "May the Lord make this woman who is coming into your house like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel."

They said, "May you have standing in Ephrathah and become famous in Bethlehem." They said, "Through the children that the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah." Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife, and he went to her and the Lord enabled her to conceive and she gave birth to a son. The women said to Naomi, "Blessed be the Lord who has not left you without a guardian redeemer. This day, may he become famous in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age, because your daughter-in-law who is better to you than seven sons has given him birth." Naomi took the child in her arms and she became his nurse. The women living there said, "Naomi has a son. Naomi has a son."

They named him Obed, which means "he who serves." He became the father of Jesse and Jesse the father of David. This then is the family line of Perez. Perez, the father of Hezron. Hezron, the father of Ram. Ram, the father of Amminadab. Amminadab, the father of Nahshon. Nahshon, the father of Salmon. Salmon, the father of Boaz. Boaz, the father of Obed. Obed, the father of Jesse. Jesse, the father of David from whose house was born the Messiah, Jesus, Redeemer with a capital R.

That's from Ruth chapters 3 and 4 and that last bit about Jesus was from the Gospel according to St. Luke 1. The word "redeem" outside of religious context is mostly used in descriptions of financial or commercial transactions. For example, I go to my online banking platform, and I see a button there that says, "You can redeem points that you've earned from your credit card transactions."

Or when I played skee-ball when I was a kid at the arcade, and I got those yellow tickets, I could take them and redeem them for prizes from behind the counter. Or my grandmother, she cut out coupons and took them to the store to redeem them for cans of cream of mushroom soup. We normally think of redemption in this commercial sense. An exchange, a transaction of property, but that's not the primary way that the Bible uses the word redeem. A redeemer in ancient Israel is a trusted and capable family member who helps out those in the family who find themselves in desperate situations. Redemption in the Bible is not primarily about finances and commerce. It is a social affair, a family affair. Redemption is the stuff of everyday life, marriage, and children, and cream of mushroom soup, and so it is all the more mind blowing that this prophet Isaiah, when Israel found themselves outcast because of their sins, in desperate times, Isaiah says that the Lord, the God of Israel would become their Redeemer.

Even more, he would make them to become redeemers with a lowercase R. Read Isaiah 49: 6-7. And the Lord God did it through Israel's Messiah. The crucified and risen Jesus, born of the house of David. David, the great-grandson of Ruth and Boaz. We, who have been called to be redeemers with a lowercase R, can learn from their story. Redeemers with a lowercase R run into two kinds of problems. One, we don't take ourselves seriously enough, and other times we take ourselves too seriously. I take myself too seriously when I pretend that I can be the Redeemer with a capital R. The unnamed redeemer in the book of Ruth is instructive for me at this point. When I hear this story, I tend to criticize him. "Oh, he wanted to be a redeemer when it involved property, but when he found out that it involved a person, he wasn't willing to commit." Well, maybe that was the right thing to do.

You and I can't redeem everybody. You and I can't solve everyone's problems. Sometimes we act like it. Sometimes we pretend that we are the Redeemer with a capital R, and this always ends badly, not only for us, but for the people that we have set up to trust in us, to look to us, as their Redeemer with a capital R. You are not the Creator, you have limits, gifts, the gift of limits from your Creator. Sometimes you have to say, "I can't help." Accept your limits. Embrace them, even as you are embraced by the limitless love of your Redeemer with a capital R.

Ignoring our limits is one way we can take ourselves too seriously. Another way is to obsess over our sinfulness. Boaz is instructive for me at this regard. Boaz is the prototypical redeemer, pointing to the real Redeemer, but he's not perfect. He's not pure and sinless. He is tickled that this young lady with the foreign accent is interested in him, an older man, and so what's with all that maneuvering he does with the other redeemer? Mentioning the property first and then later the wife. Was he being manipulative?

Commentators on the book of Ruth argue about the purity of Boaz's motives, but Boaz's purity is not what's most important. He's a redeemer with a lowercase R. You and I will never have pure motives, pure thoughts, pure actions on this side of judgment day. We still need a Redeemer with a capital R. If I find that I am acting on selfish motives, I need to confess them, turn from them, receive forgiveness, and get on with following Jesus. You need to do the same, because you have been redeemed. We have serious work to do. We have been redeemed to be redeemers, to welcome the outsider into God's ever-extending family. Recently, I found myself in the position of an outsider. My daughter's in eighth grade, and for the most part, up until now, we've schooled her at home. But we made a family decision that she's going to go to high school outside of the home, so we set up a shadow day for her at a local high school.

I was nervous. I was not just nervous for my daughter, I was nervous because we had to meet the principal, and the teachers, and the staff. We're a homeschooling family; we are outsiders in this place. To compound my insecure emotional state, driving up to the high school that morning and seeing all those teenagers get out of their cars and file into the building and most of them are taller than me, I was transported back in time. I was 13 years old again: awkward, self-conscious, unsure of where I fit in. We passed through the crowd into the building; my palms were sweaty; I'm looking down at the floor, and I see a pair of yellow tennis shoes. I look up and it's Aminata wearing a smile on her face as bright as her shoes. She was the student assigned for my daughter to shadow that day and she gave us all big hugs and welcomed us into the family. In that place, in that time, she became a redeemer with a lowercase R.

Whom will you redeem this week in the Name of Jesus—Redeemer with a capital R? If you're willing, I invite you to pray with me: Lord Jesus, spread Your garment over me and all people that we might ever be members of Your family, because You live and You reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit. One God now and forever. Amen.

Reflections for December 09, 2018

Title: Redeemer with a Capita R

Mark Eischer: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and we just heard a message from Dr. Michael Zeigler titled, "Redeemer with a Capital R." Something that distracted me, maybe some of our listeners thought this too, what was all that business about the threshing room floor? And what was taking place? Maybe, what was not taking place?

Mike Zeigler: It is a culturally foreign set of interactions that happen, and I think it's simply, it's a marriage proposal, and Naomi is giving instructions to Ruth to make this proposal to Boaz that could be done so in a way that happens out of the public eye and does it in an indirect way, but that's, I think, all it is, is a marriage proposal.

Mark Eischer: Okay. And we are so far removed from that cultural situation that I think it becomes maybe a distraction, or possibly, a stumbling block to really see what is going on. It sounds like an episode of "Desperate Housewives of Moab" or something like that.

Mike Zeigler: It's probably a lot like that. So it would be odd for a woman to make a marriage proposal to a man in those days, just as it's not common for our time, and even more so for them, and so Naomi is probably being a little manipulative, and she's got her way of trying to make things come out right, and who knows what her motives are? And we talked about that in the message, who knows what Boaz's motives are? Commentators discuss this about what's going on here, and I think that those are interesting questions, but the main point is that, through these every day interactions of fallible fallen sinful people, God is bringing about the redemption of the universe and Israel and all humanity.

Mark Eischer: That also goes along with that reference to Perez and Tamar. Maybe people are wondering what that was all about.

Mike Zeigler: Right. So this is a scandalous episode in the history of Israel. You have Judah, is one of the 12 sons of Isaac, and he is going to go find a prostitute, and his daughter-in-law, Tamar, dresses up as a prostitute, and they get together and have a child named, Perez, and it's an awful scene, and it's interesting that one of the elders of the town brings this up to Boaz and, of course, he's in the family line of Perez, and again, God is going to work through the most awful things to bring about the redemption of His people.

Mark Eischer: What are the implications for us then?

Mike Zeigler: I think having an openness to God working through everything. Certainly, to see ourselves as small R redeemers and acting in Christ's stead to welcome outcasts and outsiders, to be open to His work, even if we can't be the one person that somebody can rely on in a redeemer as a redeemer in a long-term sense. Maybe just doing small-R acts of redemption throughout our day, I think, is part of it, and then the other half is to recognize I'm not the capital-R redeemer, and my motives are going to be bad, often I'm gonna do, completely do the wrong thing and God will even work through that.

Mark Eischer: Now, I believe that, in terms of Bible chronology, these events took place, what, at least a thousand years before the birth of Christ?

Mike Zeigler: That's right. So the beginning of the Book of Ruth, it says during the days when the judges ruled, so this is before Israel had a king. This is a time of chaos in Israel where, if you read the book of Judges and it looks awful, and one of the hallmark phrases of the Book of Judges is that "everybody did what was right in their own eyes," and very much the Book of Judges is about human faithlessness and God still being faithful in the mist of that, and then so, you have Ruth, is a picture of what human faithfulness, even if it is fallible, what human faithfulness working in harmony with God's faithfulness will do. And again, Boaz, he thinks he's getting a wife. Naomi and Ruth think that they're getting a household. They couldn't even conceive that, through these events, God was going to bring about the birth of His Son into the world.

Music Selections for this program:

"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.

"On Jordan's Bank the Baptist's Cry" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)

Change Their World. Change Yours. This changes everything.

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