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Sermon - 10/13/19
2019.10.16 00:11:44

Proper 23/C [Pent. 18] (2019): Ruth 1:1-19a; 2 Timothy 2:1-13; Luke 17:11-19.

 

Returned,              Then [Naomi] arose with her daughters-in-law and returned from the region of Moab, for she had heard…that the LORD had graciously visited his people to give them food” (v. 6).

 

Naomi, Orpah, and Ruth were in search of security. Formerly security was centered in hearth and home with husbands and sons in pagan Moab near the border of Judah, Naomi’s ancestral Bethlehem land-hold.

 

After ten years, peace, domesticity, and security evaporated with the serial deaths of their men-folk. In the ancient world a woman, especially a foreign woman, beyond childbearing years, without husband or father could expect to exist on society’s margins.

 

Naomi, an Israelite with two Moabite daughters-in-law in tow were as marginal a group as were the Ten Lepers approaching Jesus on the border between heretical Samaria and Jewish Galilee.

 

All of us need and seek-out a place of security. Many, like the Pharisees (Lk. 16:14), fix their security in money putting us in comfortable, even luxuriant surroundings, with provision and companionship in the world. Earlier Jesus told of the Rich man, we call “Dives”, and impoverished, diseased, and discarded Lazarus existing on “the margins” at Dives’ gate; so close, yet in this life, a far chasm.

 

Still others derive security from the faux praises of men; worldly wisdom and associations. We all, either live on one extreme or another, or the desire to do so. In the end however, we all live in that chasm (v. 26) between heaven and hell, where the only true and eternal security is with Lazarus postured upon the Father’s bosom (v. 22a).

 

The elect discern God’s word and favor in the place of his visitation among men. Naomi heard of bread in Bethlehem, and would return to the Land of Israel’s promise. So also, the Samaritan leper, upon his healing, was impelled to return to Jesus, his source and place of Security.

 

If for a time, all of us experience suffering and desperate straits; we either trust, or not, the admonition, “do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor lose courage… For the Lord disciplines him whom he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Heb. 12:5, 6).

 

Chastisement from God comes not only in calamity, but by his word of crisis or judgment for repentant return to his place of gracious healing and release, to the precincts of heavenly Jerusalem from where we are instructed in the nature of our Security. When we hear and respond to God’s word inviting us to partake of his bread, then we grasp the place and source of eternal Security; our election in Christ.

 

Ruth on entering Israel, like the Samaritan leper, was now the foreigner. She was faithful daughter-in-law and catechized wife of the one true God of Israel. When Naomi would return to Bethlehem, Ruth for love of Naomi, would follow to the place of God’s visitation signaled by his barley bread harvest.  

 

In our Gospel only one of the Ten Lepers crying to Jesus for “mercy” was a Samaritan; the other lepers were Jews. Unlike Naomi, “bitter” at her sufferings from God, the Ten Lepers got it right; they didn’t ask Jesus for physical healing; why would they? By their loss of fleshly purity, they comprehended their condition in their corrupt flesh what was the visible sign of sin.

 

As sinners, sometimes we are self-deluded as entitled, from whatever “god” we serve, to a suffering-free life. Not so, rather Christians are enrolled into God’s school of faith under the cross that entails our sacrificial suffering as God permits; it is the way of the cross. Either we embrace the cross as the returning Leper, or like Naomi we tend to bitterly complain.

 

The Ten Lepers plead from Jesus a grace that the OT priesthood could not bestow. God is holy; The Ten were diseased without a claim on anything more than what all sinners deserve, consummation to dust; and so, The Ten rather petitioned Jesus in a higher theology than the glory of their own flesh; for God’s “mercy”.  

 

If Naomi was embittered, Ruth discerned the hope of her secure place among her new community with Naomi’s people. So, the Samaritan, upon his healing he recognized his new place of God’s visitation and mercy with the community in tow with Jesus.

 

Jesus directed The Lepers to the temple priesthood for witness in authenticating Jesus’ healings and authority. But the Samaritan, like Ruth disobeying Naomi, returned to Jesus, the place of a better thing than only physical healing; rather the locus of “God’s mercy” for restored relations with the Creator.

 

The Samaritan Leper showing himself to temple priests offered him nothing of advantage. The priests could affirm Jesus’ miracle all day long, but the Samaritan in their household would be denied their temple graces from the animal sacrifices.  

 

The Samaritan, as by Ruth’s sacrificial faith and love toward Naomi, discerned in Jesus the place of God’s merciful visitation; no longer at Jerusalem, but with the Man of Bethlehem, who sates all our need for security by faith’s forgiveness (Gen. 15:6; Hab. 2:4b).

 

The Samaritan prostrated himself before Jesus in Eucharistic praise. Today we are drawn by the power of Jesus’ word continuing as our Flesh-Bread. Formerly were lepers, which disease Jesus took into his flesh for our Absolution and release. So too, we offer our Eucharistic sacrifice of praise. Jesus is that place of Provision and Security, “A Mighty Fortress is our God”.  

 

Despite Orpah’s outward obedience to Naomi and tearful “return” to Moab; still it was the smart, the self-interested, and the worldly common-sense thing to do. Orpah abandoned Naomi for the authority of her parent’s house, and so fixed her “security” in the hope of a brokered union with a pagan Moabite man.

 

Ruth however in faith remained with Naomi in covenant of care toward her “embittered” mother-in-law; she was for Naomi a “Christ” figure. Ruth, a Moabitess having no brother-in-law, possessed no rational hope of a salvific marriage according to the law of Israel; certainly, she could not assert the Mosaic law’s “levirate marriage” by kin. Yet, a marginal life in Israel or not, Ruth for love of Naomi and trust in Israel’s God would abandon neither (Ruth 1:16, 17).

 

Certainly, the Mosaic law provided social safety-nets, such as a sojourner’s gleaning rights; but it was only marriage to an Israelite man that afforded and could reverse the fortunes of these destitute women. An Israelite husband for Ruth might legally redeem Naomi’s land should her next of kin refuse. Such an outcome, however, would require a “volunteer” to put aside self-interest.

 

Boaz, was a close, but not an immediate relation of Naomi. Still appraised of the women’s distress Boaz was impelled to volunteer to be a savior; even as God asked his only Son to act in sacrificial self-giving beyond the requirements of the law for the church.

 

Through Boaz’ redemption of Naomi’s property and Ruth’s marginal status as a foreign woman, we have the prophesy of our universal (Jew and Gentile) salvation through a new begetting by David’s seed, Jesus. As St. Paul observed, “[S]he will be saved though child bearing—if they continue in faith and love and holiness, with self-control” (1 Tim. 2:15).  

 

Mercy and forgiveness are the church’s prime directives from God; it is what she does because it is what her Lord has volunteered to do for her. While Lazarus from the “bosom of Abraham” does not relieve those consigned to hell, still the church remains the place in this world of God’s visitation for those returning in repentance to heaven’s gate.

 

On the day of Jesus’ Passion and death another foreigner, a Roman centurion, discerned under the cross God’s mercy toward men, saying “Truly this man was the Son of God!” (Mark 15:39).

 

Today, we pray for Ruth’s ears, the Leper’s sight, and the Centurion’s free election in proclamation; all by a faith that discerns the visitation of God in Jesus, the Place where God’s Bread and mercy is dispensed. Amen.

 

pem.




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