(watch here: https://youtu.be/3mlIv5DPQ38)
1Now Naomi had a kinsman on her husband’s side, a prominent rich man, of the family of Elimelech, whose name was Boaz. 2And 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.’ 3So 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. 4Just then Boaz came from Bethlehem. He said to the reapers, ‘The Lord be with you.’ They answered, ‘The Lord bless you.’ 5Then Boaz said to his servant who was in charge of the reapers, ‘To whom does this young woman belong?’ 6The servant who was in charge of the reapers answered, ‘She is the Moabite who came back with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7She said, “Please let me glean and gather among the sheaves behind the reapers.” So she came, and she has been on her feet from early this morning until now, without resting even for a moment.’
8Then 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. 9Keep 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.’ 10Then 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?’ 11But Boaz answered her, ‘All that you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband has been fully told me, and how you left your father and mother and your native land and came to a people that you did not know before. 12May 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!’ 13Then 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.’
14At 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. 15When she got up to glean, Boaz instructed his young men, ‘Let her glean even among the standing sheaves, and do not reproach her. 16You must also pull out some handfuls for her from the bundles, and leave them for her to glean, and do not rebuke her.’
17So she gleaned in the field until evening. Then she beat out what she had gleaned, and it was about an ephah of barley. 18She picked it up and came into the town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gleaned. Then she took out and gave her what was left over after she herself had been satisfied. 19Her mother-in-law said to her, ‘Where did you glean today? And where have you worked? Blessed be the man who took notice of you.’ So she told her mother-in-law with whom she had worked, and said, ‘The name of the man with whom I worked today is Boaz.’ 20Then Naomi said to her daughter-in-law, ‘Blessed be he by the Lord, whose kindness has not forsaken the living or the dead!’ Naomi also said to her, ‘The man is a relative of ours, one of our nearest kin.’ 21Then Ruth the Moabite said, ‘He even said to me, “Stay close by my servants, until they have finished all my harvest.”’ 22Naomi said to Ruth, her daughter-in-law, ‘It is better, my daughter, that you go out with his young women, otherwise you might be bothered in another field.’ 23So she stayed close to the young women of Boaz, gleaning until the end of the barley and wheat harvests; and she lived with her mother-in-law.
In their book entitled, Known, Dick and Ruth Foth tell a powerful, true story about a dog named Bobby. The story began in 1850 when a man named John Gray came to Edinburgh, Scotland to be a gardener. Unable to find work, John joined the police force as a night watchmen. To keep him company through the long nights, he would take his small Skye terrier named Bobby with him on his rounds. They became part of the living landscape of the city night after night for years. John later contracted tuberculosis and died in the winter of 1858; he was buried in Greyfriars Kirkyard. What happened next became legend in the city. Bobby, the Skye terrier, would not leave his master’s grave. Except for accepting midday meals from the kind people in the area, Bobby stayed there day and night with his master. The caretaker tried on many occasions to evict the dog, but to no avail. Finally, he provided the little dog with a shelter by the grave. When the city passed an ordinance that all unlicensed dogs would be destroyed, the Lord Provost of Edinburgh, William Chambers, purchased a license for Bobby and had a collar engraved for the little dog. Until his death fourteen years later, the citizens cared for Bobby while he guarded his master’s body. If you walk to Greyfriars Kirkyard today, you can’t miss the statue that stands across the street. It is a sculpture of Bobby with these words inscribed on the base: “Greyfriars Bobby—died 14th January 1872—aged 16 years. Let his loyalty and devotion be a lesson to us all.”
Perhaps one day I’ll find myself in Edinburgh and I’ll be sure to hunt down Bobby’s statue. For a dog to guard over his master’s grave for 14 years is no small feat! I guess it is true that dogs can be considered man’s best friends. But I wonder if my own 2 dogs would stick around for so long after my own passing. Regardless, it’s a neat, little story illustrating an important quality of fruitful relationships that I’d like to reflect further on this morning: loyalty. Last week, we started this new sermon series on the book of Ruth by looking at the first chapter. The decisions that Naomi and Ruth had to make had as much to do with faith as with loyalty. Naomi had no idea a famine in her home region would force her and her husband to leave and raise a family in a hostile neighboring region. Naomi had no idea her husband would pass away relatively soon after the move. Naomi had no idea her two sons would also die soon thereafter, leaving her widowed in a strange land without any male family to help take care of her. Naomi had no idea she would be compelled to leave that strange, hostile land and return to what had become an equally strange and hostile homeland. These decisions demanded a great deal of faith as most difficult decisions tend to. Naomi had to have faith that God would provide for her through her husband and sons and eventually herself. She certainly didn’t expect God to provide for her through Ruth, a widow whose survival depended on staying with her own family in Moab. But God worked through Ruth just as he had worked through Naomi’s husband and two sons. God enabled Naomi and Ruth to return to Bethlehem and connect up with Elimelech’s family. A strong faith carried Naomi through it all, a faith rooted in loyalty. God wouldn’t abandon Naomi because of his loyalty to her. Nor would Naomi abandon God because of her loyalty to him. And Ruth, well, she wouldn’t abandon Naomi because of her loyalty to her. Yes, she had faith in God’s ability to provide but her loyalty to Naomi is what compelled her to leave and go into that foreign land.
Now loyalty is an interesting concept. At its root definition, loyalty is a strong feeling of support or allegiance. When we are loyal to something or someone, we have chosen to obey and honor it or him or her. In marriage verbiage, we have chosen to forsake all others and focus all our attention and devotion to that one thing or person. We work to ensure its or his or hers success and growth. We protect it from all harm, we nurture it, we feed it, we do everything we can to keep it or him or her alive. This is what it means to be loyal to something or someone. What makes loyalty an interesting concept is when we consider the motivation behind it. What compels us to pledge our allegiance to something or someone? Fear? Hope? Sorrow? Joy? Selfishness? Selflessness? Dread? Promise? We are complex beings, compelled to do what we do for a variety of reasons. Choosing to be loyal to something or someone can be motivated by any number of reasons. Why was Naomi loyal to her husband? Was she afraid of him or his family? Was she proud of him? Was she simply obeying the larger culture that told her to be loyal to him? Why was Ruth loyal to Naomi? Was she afraid of her husband’s family? Was she tired of her life in Moab? Was she proud of the faith and loyalty she saw in Naomi? Was she hopeful of a life in Bethlehem? We simply don’t know what motivated the loyalty in these two women.
Perhaps it was the same thing that motivates our God’s loyalty to us: love. We witness the faith and loyalty of Naomi and Ruth and rejoice in the loyalty of our God because it is completely hopeful, joyous, selfless, and promising. God’s loyalty is entirely driven by love for us. As Lamentations reminds us, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. ‘The Lord is my portion,’ says my soul, ‘therefore I will hope in him.’” (3:22-24) God always loves us no matter how awful we become. God is always working to bring about goodness in the lives of those who love him and have faith in him. God always wants to love us! His loyalty to us is motivated by nothing but love for us and we are compelled to reflect that loyalty right back at God. Recall Deuteronomy teaching us, “Know therefore that the Lord your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations.” (7:9) Our God is loyal to us so we ought to be loyal to him.
Ruth’s loyalty to Naomi must not have been all that different from God’s since it compelled Boaz to offer her protection and assistance as we heard in today’s reading. Boaz understood the sacrifices Ruth made to return to Bethlehem with Naomi. Boaz also understood the love that motivated Ruth’s loyalty. He couldn’t help reaching out to Ruth and supporting her in whatever way he could. That’s the thing about loyalty: loyalty begets loyalty. When we witness loyalty in others, we are motivated to be loyal ourselves. Let us be inspired by the loyalty of Naomi and Ruth. More importantly, let us be inspired by the loyalty of our God and heed the wisdom of Proverbs 3:1-3, “My child, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare they will give you. Do not let loyalty and faithfulness forsake you; bind them round your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart.”
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.