June 30, 2013

Scripture and Commentary, Week of Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Monday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Morning - Ps. 11, 12, Ruth 2:1-13, Lk. 9:46
Evening - Ps. 8, 19, Acts 18:1-11

Commentary, Ruth 2:1-13

Naomi may have returned to Israel empty, but God had much good in store for her.  By his providence He works all things to good for His people, and He will bring good to Naomi in spite of her sin and lukewarm faith. By His providence He brings Naomi into contact with her wealthy brother in law, Boaz.  It was not Naomi who made plans to glean the fields of Boaz, it was Ruth (2:2).  Ruth even dared to hope Boaz would be favourably disposed toward her.  By God's grace, he was.  It was not chance that brought him from Bethlehem.  It was not chance that caused him to see this unknown woman gleaning in his field.  It was not chance that he felt kindly toward her and gave her far more than simply the leftovers of the crop.  It was Providence.  God caused Boaz to learn of Ruth's faithfulness to Naomi, and of her leaving the land of Moab to join herself to Israel (2:11).  He desired God to bless her, and intended to be an instrument of His good will toward her (2:12-13).

There is much to learn of God's grace in this passage.  We, like Naomi have sinned and strayed from God like lost sheep.  We have dwelt among the heathen and neglected our duties to God.  Our rebellion has been costly, for we have reaped what we have sown and we have found ourselves empty in our souls.  But God is rich in mercy.  In His Providence He has brought us to our Kinsman Redeemer and into His house and home.  He has given us all that He has, as an adoring husband to his loving wife.  We came to God empty, but He has made us full.

Tuesday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 17, Ruth 2:14, Lk. 10:1-24
Evening - Ps. 3, 14,  Acts 18:12-23

Commentary, Ruth 2:14

The heart of today's reading in Ruth is found in verse 20.  Naomi is suffering through the dark night of the soul.  She seems to have had an exceptionally close and happy relationship with her family.  Now her beloved husband is dead, along with her two dear sons. The people who made her life worth living have been ripped from hear heart, and her grief at this loss must have been almost unbearable.  Added to this grief is the loss of her home and income, so that she is plunged into poverty so deep she becomes a beggar who has to rely on charity for even her food.    She knows that, if her neighbors are not charitable, or if food is scarce, she and her daughter in law will face death by slow starvation in the coming winter.

It is difficult for us to imagine the deep, deep sorrow, anger, and despair that grips Naomi's heart, though we can see how it would be compounded by her nominal faith.  But a spark of Godly hope is ignited within her when she sees the food brought to her by Ruth.  Ruth has brought not only grain, but also a significant portion of the meal given to her earlier that day (2:14 & 18)-19).  She bears the good tidings that Boaz has provided an abundant supply of food for them (2:15-16, 21-23).  But verse 20 is the real turning point in Naomi's life.  Learning that Ruth has gleaned in the fields of Boaz, Naomi realises that it is the Providence and Grace of God that took Ruth to the fields this day. Her words, "Blessed be he of the Lord, who hath not left off His kindness to the living and to the dead," show that Naomi realises God intends to heal her wounded soul and restore her heritage in Israel.  Boaz is required by Covenant Law to marry Ruth and provide children to inherit the property of her husband's father.  He also has the wealth and power to redeem the property and return it to Ruth, and to Naomi.  Naomi's words express her conversion.  In these words, she confesses her faith in God, and takes her rightful place as a daughter of the Covenant.

In a very real sense, Boaz is a picture our Redeemer-Kinsman, our Lord Christ.  He has power and the will to provide for the needs of life and to redeem us from the poverty of our sin.  As God, through the kindness and faithfulness of Boaz, healed Naomi of the wounds in her soul and made her a child of the Covenant, Christ heals our souls and makes us children of grace.  As Boaz had the power to redeem the property of Elimelech and make Naomi, Ruth, and her children heirs of land in Israel, Christ has power to redeem our souls and make us heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Naomi realises God is working out the redemption of her property and her soul.  Thus she gives thanks to God for His kindness to her, the living, and to her husband and sons, the dead.  Their heritage in Israel will continue.

Wednesday after the Fifth Sunday in Trinity


Morning - Ps. 20, 21:1-6, Ruth 3:1-13, Lk. 10:25-37
Evening - Ps. 27, Acts 18:24-19:7

Commentary, Ruth 13:1-13

The events of the third chapter of Ruth seem strange to modern Christians. To put them in chronological order we see that the harvest is over and the time to thresh the grain has come.  Boaz has dealt kindly with Naomi and Ruth, and it is due to him that the women have been able to gather enough food to keep them well supplied until the next year's harvest.  Boaz, who lives in Bethlehem, has come to one of his threshing houses to winnow the barely, meaning to separate the grain from the hull and bits of leaves and stalks, called, "chaff."  That part seems plain and normal to us, but what is this sneaking around in the dark and uncovering Boaz's feet?  It is simply this; Ruth is asking Boaz to marry her and to redeem the property of her husband, now under lease to someone else, due to Naomi's poverty (4:3).

According to Old Testament law, the brother of a man who died without children was to marry his brother's widow, and father a child who would inherit the land and property of the deceased man.  This was done so that the name of the deceased would continue in Israel, and that his family would always possess his portion of the land.  According to Old Testament law, the land of Israel was given as a heritage to the people.  Therefore, it could not be sold, but could be leased out until the year of Jubilee, when it reverted back to the original owner or his heirs.  An Israelite usually only leased his property out because of severe financial problems, so there was a provision that a near kinsman could buy back the lease and return the property to its rightful owners.  This was called "redeeming" the land.

When Ruth went to Boaz at night, she did nothing immoral.  She simply asked Boaz to marry her.  That is the meaning of verse 9.  Had Boaz spread his "skirt," or, blanket over her, he would have been asking her to lie beside him as his wife, and they would be considered married.  Boaz specifically did not invite her, but rather turned her away telling her that a nearer kinsman had the duty to marry her, but he would certainly do so if the other man consented.

It is significant that the Hebrew word for kinsman can also mean "redeemer."   To marry his brother's widow a man would also redeem his property for his heirs if it had been leased to another.  Thus, Boaz is addressed by Ruth as her near kinsman and redeemer.  We see here a picture of the love of Christ for His Church.  He is her redeemer who purchases her place in the Kingdom of God.  He is also her husband who loves her for eternity.

Thursday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 25, Ruth 4:1-8, Lk. 10:28-11:13
Evening - Ps. 30, 31:1-6, Acts 19:8-20

Commentary, Ruth 4:1-8

Boaz went to the gate of Bethlehem and found the man who was a closer kinsman than himself. This man was willing to redeem the property of Naomi until he learned he would also have to marry Ruth.   Marrying her would mean the property would not belong to him, but to Ruth's children.  He would, therefore, be buying the property for Naomi, Ruth, and Ruth's children.  This was the intent of this custom.  It served to keep widows and children out of poverty, not provide extra land to those who could afford it.  This man was willing to redeem the land when it appeared it would profit him.  When he saw it would not, he passed it on to Boaz.  Thus, Boaz receives the right to marry Ruth and provide for the prosperity of Naomi and Ruth.

This is very important for it secures the place of Naomi and Ruth in the Covenant people of God.  They have a share in the heritage of Israel, which symbolises that they have a "share" in God.  They are truly now part of Israel, the redeemed of God.

Friday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 26, Ruth 4:9-22, Lk. 11:14-28
Evening - Ps. 32, 36:5,  Daniel 1:1-21, Acts 19:21

Commentary, Ruth 4:9-22

This morning brings us to the close of the book of Ruth.  It is very tempting to spend time on the details of the events in today's reading, but we will instead go right to the major points of the passage. 

First, the conversion of Ruth is complete.  In the beginning of the book she was a pagan citizen of one of the bitterest enemies of Israel, Moab.  In today's reading she is the mother of a child who inherits the property of Elimelech and Naomi, and of their sons.  In the beginning she was an alien to the people of God, and to the promises of God given to Israel.  Now she is a full citizen and participant in them.  She is fully a daughter of the Covenant.  So here is a woman, who grew up outside of the Church and without instruction in the Scriptures, who is welcomed into the Church by the grace of God.  Thus, it is faith, not background that makes one a child of God.  A person who has never yet been in Church is as welcome as those who have been raised in it.  They, like Ruth, may freely come to God.

Second, the conversion of Naomi is complete.  Naomi is back in the Covenant people, with a grandchild who will carry on the family name in Israel.  More than this, she is reconciled to God.  At the beginning of the book she was in sin and unbelief. Now her faith is as real as her place among the Covenant people.  She, too, is a true daughter of the Covenant and child of God.  Naomi was raised in Israel, with all the blessings and opportunities to know God and learn the Scriptures that the Hebrew people enjoyed.  Yet she gave only lip service to God, preferring to follow the ways of the world. Many today, having the same opportunities, throw them away as Naomi did.  Raised in the Church with countless opportunities to learn the Scripture and know Christ, they fritter away their opportunities in youth, and, in adulthood, and form the habit of neglecting the Word and House of God.  They may retain a nominal belief in God.  They may even try to live moral lives and have great respect for the Bible.  But their hearts are not in it.  When Christ commands them, "Follow Me," they draw back and ask, "How far?"  Naomi was such a person, but in today's reading she has turned to God in true faith.  All who have followed Naomi's example away from God may also follow her example back to Him.  Those who do will find God as willing to welcome them as He was to welcome Naomi.  Draw nigh unto Him and He will draw nigh unto you.

Third, God chose Ruth to be a direct ancestor of Israel's greatest king, David.  She was David's Great Grandmother.  One of the main points of the book of Ruth is to show the life of the immediate forbearers of David, and to serve as an introduction to the call and life of David as king of Israel.

Fourth, the guiding hand of God is always upon His people.  The time in which Naomi and Ruth lived was a chaotic time of rampant sin and open rejection of God.  Some Israelites, like Elimelech and Naomi, left Israel to dwell among the pagans.  Others simply incorporated pagan ideas and values into the Old Testament faith.  Both actions were wrong, and their practitioners paid dearly.  But God did not desert Israel, nor did He allow their sins to stop His plan to bring all things together in Christ.  He brought David into the world by His providence and grace, and through David's line, the Saviour was born, in "the fulness of the time." 

Saturday after the Fifth Sunday after Trinity


Morning - Ps. 28, 1 Sam. 1:1-11, Lk. 11:29-36
Evening - Ps. 47, 48, Dan. 2:1-13, Acts 20:1-16

Commentary, Daniel 2:1-13

We began reading in Daniel last night, and will be in it until mid August.  It is a story of people holding fast to the faith when all the props have been removed and the general direction of the surrounding culture is hostile to you. The story takes place in Babylon after Nebuchadnezzar had conquered Jerusalem and deported the Jews to captivity in Babylon.  Nebuchadnezzar had some of the Jewish boys selected to be instructed in the learning of the Chaldeans (Babylonians).  These were to be descendants of the king and nobility of Judah, without defect, and showing promise of intellectual ability.  Nebuchadnezzar wanted to make Babylonians of them, and use them to influence the Jews to accept Babylonian rule.  Children from other nations readily agreed to live in the palace and learn of Babylon, but the Jewish children did not.  They retained their Jewish identity, including eating only "Kosher" food.  And "God gave them knowledge and skill in all learning and wisdom: and Daniel had understanding in all visions and dreams" (1:17).

It would be very difficult for anyone to resist the gentle brainwashing of the Babylonians.  Separated from their parents, told they are the best and brightest children in all the land, promised privilege and prosperity, it would have been nearly impossible for an adult to remain true to God.  Yet these young men did.  In the days ahead we will read their stories and see the hand of Providence guiding God's people, even in this dark and dangerous hour.

Tonight's reading takes us to the dream of Nebuchadnezzar.  He knew his dream was important, and needed someone to tell him what it meant.  But the seers and astrologers often lied to kings to protect themselves.  They told kings what they wanted to hear instead of the truth, and Nebuchadnezzar wanted the truth.  So he decreed that the wise men, the astrologers and seers, would be required to tell him the content of his dream and its meaning.  Those who could not, were considered useless pretenders and would be executed by being cut to pieces and their property taken and turned into dumps (2:5 &12). 

Sermon, Fifth Sunday after Trinity

Christians Trust
Psalm 62, 63, Ecclesiastes 2:1-11, 18-23, Matthew 19:16
Fifth Sunday after Trinity
June 30, 2013

Our Scripture Lessons for this morning appear at first glance to cover a variety of subjects, and, indeed they do, but a common thread runs through them.  It is a thread that actually runs through all Holy Scripture, Old Testament and New, and that thread is, trust in God.  And so, the topic for this morning’s sermon is, “Christians Trust.”

Solomon’s words in Ecclesiastes 2 are about the untrustworthiness of the pleasures and trinkets of the world.  They are untrustworthy because they promise to give happiness, but cannot give it.  Real happiness is a condition of the soul, therefore, physical things and worldly pleasures cannot give it.  That is Solomon’s point in his book, which we call Ecclesiastes.  Solomon, the third king of ancient Israel, started his reign well, but gradually his heart was enticed away from God by the power and wealth at his command.  Solomon had the money to buy whatever he wanted and the power to command people to do his bidding.  Money and power are good things, if used well.  A person can do much good with money and power.  A person can also do much harm.  The harm comes when a person begins to value money and power and the things they can procure, more than he values people, morality, and God.  That was Solomon’s mistake.  Solomon began to think of himself as the owner of Israel and its people, rather than the servant of them.  He used the land for his own profit, and forced the people to work as his servants to build his wealth and power.  This is the constant tendency and temptation of power.  Solomon fell under that temptation, as many public servants, both civil and ecclesiastical have also fallen, and continue to fall even today.

We do not have to be as rich as Solomon to be as selfish as Solomon.  In fact, I see people at every level of the economic scale living as self-indulgently and selfishly as their means and opportunities allow.  Look at the way people have transformed the word “freedom” to mean “licentiousness.”  Claiming to stand for freedom, people have become wildly selfish, devoting themselves to the gratification of even their basest desires and lusts.

Nor is this limited to those we would consider evil people.  The young man in our reading in Matthew was a very moral man.  When Jesus told him what he would have to do to merit or earn eternal life, Heaven, he said, “All these things have I kept from my youth up” (Mt. 19:20).  I believe the man had a few blind spots in his view of his own goodness.  He was able to conveniently overlook some things in his past conduct that did not measure up to the letter of God’s law, let alone the spirit of God’s law.  But it is true that he conducted himself well and had a great measure of moral success.  By all human standards he was an exceptionally good man.  But not by God’s standards.  And Jesus points this out in a way that grieved the young man’s heart.  Give your goods away, He demanded.  “[G]o and sell all that thou hast, and give to the poor… and come and follow me” (Mt 19:21).  The man would not do it.  He loved his wealth and possessions more than he loved God.  Let me say this in more pointed language, because this is terribly important; he did not trust God to be better and more valuable than wealth and possessions.  Let me say that again; he did not trust God to be better and more valuable than his possessions.  Therefore he kept his possessions and give up God.

I want to look at Psalm 62 for a few minutes, because it elucidates this point in three short and solid points.  Its first point is; God’s people trust God.  This is the main point of the Psalm and it occupies seven of the Psalm’s twelve verses.  It is stated most clearly in verse 7, which is the culmination of the Psalm; “God is my health and my glory; the rock of my might; and in God is my trust.”  Let this be our motto as we travel this world; whether we live in riches or poverty, in worldly peace, or in persecution, “God is my health and my glory; the rock of my might; and in God is my trust.”

The second point is, Trust God.  It is made primarily in verses 8-12, and is made in such statements as; “O put your trust in Him always, ye people; pour out your hearts before Him, for God is our hope.”  I think this point is made for both believers and unbelievers.  It is possible for believers to become discouraged and even angry at God.  I even think it is possible for believers, true believers, to doubt, and to experience times when we don’t really trust God.  I actually think most believers have very little faith in God.  Most of our faith is in our feelings and opinions.  We trust God as long as we feel like He is close to us and helping us.  In reality God is there for us at all times, maybe even especially in those times when we don’t “feel” like He is.  Maybe He wants us to trust Him, not our feelings.  But know this; God will never leave or forsake you. The Author and finisher of your faith will complete the work He has begun in you.  So to you who trust God, trust God.

To the unbeliever, this point is an exhortation to give up unbelief.  God has good things for you.  In Him there is pardon for your sins, mercy for your weaknesses, and help and strength for your soul. I turn back to Matthew 19, and Christ’s promises to the disciples, who have forsaken all to follow Him (Mt. 19:27).  They have put their whole trust in Jesus, for this life and eternity.  And what does Jesus say to them?  You will sit on thrones in Heaven, and you will have eternal life, life in the presence of God, enjoying His love and richest blessings forever (Mt. 1928-30).  Why give up these riches for a few trinkets and pleasures that will fade very soon?  Trust in Christ and be saved.

The third point, in verses 3 and 4, is a warning to the wicked.  It calls them a tottering wall and a broken hedge.  “Ye shall be slain all the sort of you,” it says.  The Bible makes it very plain that the ungodly will not have any part with Him in Heaven.  Instead of eternal life, they will inherit eternal death, a living death, forever.  Why suffer that fate?  Believe in Christ and be saved.  Trust God.

Now it just so happens that the Collect for today is about trusting God.  “Order,” guide the world and its people so that we may live and serve God in peace.  That is the first part of the prayer.  The second part is more important, for it asks God to help us find our peace in Him; to “joyfully serve” Him.  In other words, it asks God to help us trust Him.

“Grant, O Lord, we beseech thee, that the course of this world may be so peaceably ordered by thy governance, that thy Church may joyfully serve thee in all godly quietness; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”