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Summary: This morning we’re going to listen to a loyal love story from the Book of Ruth. Many people have said that the Book of Ruth is the most beautiful short story ever written. It’s an account of anxiety, fear, love, and commitment that inflames the imagin

Ruth: A Loyal Love Story

I like looking at old scrapbooks. For most of us, our family picture albums are stored away in boxes somewhere. Whenever I pick up one of my mom’s old albums, the ancient black and white pictures start to fall out, and I get to relive the memories of my youth all over again. Pictures help us to keep the story alive.

We’ve pulled out a couple scrapbooks the past two weeks in order to keep God’s story of redemption alive in our own lives. By flipping through the pages of some of the “lifestyles of the not-so-famous” characters of the Old Testament, we’ve been reminded of their stories and challenged by their faith. We looked at Hannah as a model for motherhood and last week we learned more about trust from the life of Gideon. This morning we’re going to listen to a loyal love story from the Book of Ruth.

Many people have said that the Book of Ruth is the most beautiful short story ever written. It’s an account of anxiety, fear, love, and commitment that inflames the imagination and soothes the soul. It begins with despair and ends with delight.

When Benjamin Franklin was the Ambassador to France, he occasionally attended the Infidels Club -- a group that spent most of its time searching for and reading literary masterpieces. On one occasion Franklin read the book of Ruth to the club, but changed the names in it so it would not be recognized as a book of the Bible. When he finished, the listeners were unanimous in their praise. They said it was one of the most beautiful short stories that they had ever heard, and demanded that he tell them where he had run across such a remarkable work of art. He loved telling them that it came from the Bible!

And, because this love story is in the Bible, it’s more than just a romance novel. Romans 15:4 says, “For everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.” Paul is referring here to the Old Testament, including the book of Ruth. That means we’ll be taught, we’ll be more able to endure tough times, and we’ll be encouraged as we learn together. In the process, we’ll grow in hope.

While the Book of Ruth is a super story of love and loyalty, we’re separated by thousands of miles and thousands of years from its setting. In my research this week, I went on the Internet and found the website for the Union of American Hebrew Congregations in New York City. I wanted to find out more about how the Book of Ruth is thought of in Jewish circles, since the Old Testament contains their sacred Scriptures.

I called them and was connected to Rabbi Pamela Wax, the assistant director of adult Jewish education. She told me that the Book of Ruth is very significant to Jewish people. In fact, about a week ago, they celebrated the festival of “Shavuot,” in which the entire book is sung or read out loud. She asked if I wanted it sung and I said sure. She then proceeded to sing Ruth 1:1 to me over the phone. I wish I could have recorded it because it was so beautiful. She also told me that on the Thursday night of the festival, many people stay up all night to study the Book of Ruth. It’s also customary to eat dairy foods throughout the festival because the Torah is likened to the sweetness of milk and honey. Rest assured, we’re not going to be here all day and night studying Ruth, I’m certainly not going to sing to you, and we’re not going to serve cheese and milk shakes (though my relatives from the “Dairy State” would love that).

There is both Old Testament and New Testament precedent for the reading of the Bible out loud before an assembly of worshipers. In Joshua 8:34-35, Joshua read all the words of the Law to the nation of Israel. In Nehemiah 8:3, “Ezra read aloud from daybreak until noon…and all the people listened attentively to the Book of the Law.” In 8:8, we learn that a group of Levites not only read from the Law, they “made it clear and gave the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read.”

Most of the New Testament letters were to be read in their entirety to the young churches. Paul challenged the Thessalonians, “I charge you before the Lord to have this letter read to all the churches.” And, in 1 Timothy 4:13, Paul tells Timothy to “devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching and teaching.” I want to follow that model this morning, but I’m going to reverse the order. I’m going to begin with the teaching as we discuss some important background information. Then we’ll listen to the reading of God’s Word and finally conclude with some preaching as we look for ways to apply these loyal love lessons to our own lives.

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Derrence Smaage

commented on May 9, 2008

Excellent sermon. Thank you very much. I appreciate your effort in building this sermon. Especially your research at the synagogue. Thanks.

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