Sunday Sermon: A Ruth-less World Falls into a Grain Bin of Truth

Gleaning on Everlasting Farms

Sunday, Feb. 19, 2012

Augusta, GA

By Al Gray

One of the most moving stories in the Bible is the story of Ruth. The story is one of devotion in how Ruth was faithful to her mother-in-law, Naomi. Compassion flows from the wealthy farmer, Boaz, toward the two of them. Later the compassion turned to love. The whole story is one of inspiration.

The quality most often missed in this story is toughness and tenacity.

These passages were taken from the Bible Gateway, New International Version.

1 Long ago, during the time the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a man named Elimelech left the town of Bethlehem in Judah. He, his wife, and his two sons moved to the country of Moab. 2 The man’s wife was named Naomi… Later  5 … Naomi was left alone without her husband or her two sons.

8 Then Naomi told her daughters-in-law, “Each of you should go back home to your mother. You have been very kind to me and my sons who are now dead. So I pray that the LORD will be just as kind to you…” 14 So again they cried very much. Then Orpah kissed Naomi goodbye, but Ruth hugged her and stayed.

16 ….Ruth said, “Don’t force me to leave you! Don’t force me to go back to my own people. Let me go with you. Wherever you go, I will go. Wherever you sleep, I will sleep. Your people will be my people. Your God will be my God. 17 Where you die, I will die, and that is where I will be buried. I ask the LORD to punish me if I don’t keep this promise: Only death will separate us.

22 So Naomi and her daughter-in-law Ruth, the Moabite, came back from the hill country of Moab. These two women came to Bethlehem at the beginning of the barley harvest.

Chapter 2: 1 There was a rich man named Boaz living in Bethlehem. 2 One day Ruth, the Moabite, said to Naomi, “I think I will go to the fields. Maybe I can find someone who will be kind to me and let me gather the grain they leave in their field.” Naomi said, “Fine, daughter, go ahead.

3 So Ruth went to the fields. She followed the workers who were cutting the grain and gathered the grain that was left. [b] It happened that part of the field belonged to Boaz…

5 Boaz spoke to his servant who was in charge of the workers. He asked, “Whose girl is that?” 6 The servant answered, “She is the Moabite woman who came with Naomi from the country of Moab. 7 She came early this morning and asked me if she could follow the workers and gather the grain that was left on the ground. She rested only a short time in that shelter.” [c]

8 Then Boaz said to Ruth, “Listen, child. Stay here in my field to gather grain for yourself. There is no need for you to go to any other field. Continue following behind my women workers. 9 Watch to see which fields they go into to cut the grain and follow them. I have warned the young men not to bother you. When you are thirsty, go and drink from the same water jug my men drink from.

10 Then Ruth bowed very low to the ground. She said to Boaz, “I am a foreigner, so I am surprised you even noticed me.” 11 Boaz answered her, “I know about all the help you have given to your mother-in-law Naomi. I know you helped her even after your husband died. And I know that you left your father and mother and your own country and came here to this country. You did not know anyone from this country, but you came here with Naomi. 12 The LORD will reward you for all the good things you have done. The LORD, the God of Israel, will pay you in full. You have come to him for safety, [d] and he will protect you.

Wikipedia defines “gleaning” as:  the act of collecting leftover crops from farmers’ fields after they have been commercially harvested or on fields where it is not economically profitable to harvest.

This writer has made a living from gleaning.

Gleaning requires stubbornness in refusing to accept that all the good has been gotten out of anything. Ruth succeeded in getting enough barley grain to sustain her and Naomi, even before Boaz intervened to make certain Ruth got a bounty.

Gleaning involves excelling above the average competitor. Boaz had field hands – the Book of Ruth makes clear that they were both men and women workers – charged with gathering his riches of grain. Ruth had to work harder and know where to look for grain kernels that fell amongst the chaff, the soil, and ruts of the field. She probably knew exactly what to look for in discovering hidden caches.

Gleaning involves overcoming politics to even be allowed on the field. Surely in that day some owners begrudged the gleaners harvests considering the grain to be “mine” to the point of letting it rot away. We all know and have seen this attitude.

The farmer’s foremen could not have liked the idea of having gleaners around. When the gleaner’s gathered too great a bounty, it would make them look bad in the eyes of the boss. One can bet that, where the foreman had his say, the fields were closed to gleaners. You may have noticed that only part of the field belonged to Boaz.

Gleaning also provides a sense of pride. We cannot help but notice that Ruth continued to glean after she found favor in the eyes of Boaz. He seems to have respected that by letting her earn her own support, probably knowing Ruth would never have accepted outright gifting of the grain. Politics came to the fore on that too, because of the resentment of his paid workers that would have ensued, had the grain been gifted.

Finally, gleaning is just plain common sense. Rather than let unappreciated, uncaptured resources continue to be squandered, it puts them to work providing sustenance to the resourceful, the committed, and the faithful.

The economic and financial times we find ourselves in is giving way to gleaning in myriad fields and ways like wood waste to fuel, scrap steel to recycling, ebay sales of what was “junk” discarded by unappreciative owners but recaptured by the gleaners, and cost recovery reviews that find wasted monies that can fund new, productive ventures.

Political resistance is futile against something so filled with common sense, purpose, proven results, productivity, self-worth, and founded in the works of Ruth. Many fields are fertile from discarded wastes of all descriptions that remain closed. They shouldn’t be and they won’t be isolated much longer. There are strong forces in play that won’t allow it.

We don’t have to glean much to be captivated by the words of Ruth that have descended through the ages, “Entreat me not to leave thee, and to return from following after thee, for whither thou goest, I will go; and where thou lodgest, I will lodge; thy people shall be my people, and thy God my God.”

Ruth’s example is not lost. Indeed it soon will emerge triumphant as we turn away from the abyss.

Glean on.***

Al Gray

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