Weekly Seeds: Seeking Security

Sunday, November 7, 2021
After Pentecost Year B

Focus Theme:
Seeking Security

Focus Prayer:
God our redeemer, in sustaining the lives of Naomi and Ruth, you gave new life to your people. We ask that from age to age, new generations may be born to restore life and nourish the weak, by returning to you those things we once thought ours. Amen.

Focus Reading:
Ruth 3:1–5, 4:13–17
3 Naomi her mother-in-law said to her, “My daughter, I need to seek some security for you, so that it may be well with you. 2 Now here is our kinsman Boaz, with whose young women you have been working. See, he is winnowing barley tonight at the threshing floor. 3 Now wash and anoint yourself, and put on your best clothes and go down to the threshing floor; but do not make yourself known to the man until he has finished eating and drinking. 4 When he lies down, observe the place where he lies; then, go and uncover his feet and lie down; and he will tell you what to do.” 5 She said to her, “All that you tell me I will do.”
13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When they came together, the LORD made her conceive, and she bore a son. 14 Then the women said to Naomi, “Blessed be the LORD, who has not left you this day without next-of-kin; and may his name be renowned in Israel! 15 He shall be to you a restorer of life and a nourisher of your old age; for your daughter-in-law who loves you, who is more to you than seven sons, has borne him.” 16 Then Naomi took the child and laid him in her bosom, and became his nurse. 17 The women of the neighborhood gave him a name, saying, “A son has been born to Naomi.” They named him Obed; he became the father of Jesse, the father of David.

All readings for this Sunday:
Ruth 3:1–5, 4:13–17 and Psalm 127
1 Kings 17:8–16 and Psalm 146
Hebrews 9:24–28
Mark 12:38–44

Focus Questions:

  1. What does security mean for you?
  2. How do you respond to instances or seasons of insecurity?
  3. Why is security so important to human beings?
  4. What challenges do we avoid because of fear?
  5. What opportunities open when we consider the future?

By Cheryl Lindsay

How many of our life decisions stem from a quest for security? Some of us may forgo the vocation that stirs passion and energy within us in favor of careers that seem to offer more certainty and stability. We may decide to remain close to home rather than explore the world (or even another part of the country) because we perceive that to be a safer option. We may not pursue the entries on our bucket list that are risky or take a chance on learning a new thing for fear of failure.

Security can become especially appealing in response to constant upheaval. Life during a global pandemic has taught that lesson around the world. But, many communities already maintained familiarity with an insecure life. People in war torn lands may take extraordinary measures to escape that life and seek asylum in more stable nations. While some may consider that action akin to trading one form of uncertainty for another, the testimony of sanctuary seekers reflects that the uncertainty of a new life promises more hope than the certainty of a life filled with horrors.

Naomi encouraged Ruth to return to her community of origin because she believed that offered her daughter-in-law security. Ruth had a different idea.

In this week’s passage, Ruth and Naomi seemed to have settled into a new normal, yet their position remains precarious. The threshing season can only last for so long. Once that time is over, the pair will need a new survival strategy. Ruth’s story is an immigrant’s story of finding what work she could obtain as a foreigner in a land that does not embrace her as a human being created in the image of God but will use her labor for their benefit. She helps illuminate the plight of migrant farm workers and undocumented persons who struggle to survive with only a dim hope to experience security. Again, we don’t know the details about her homeland and what she anticipated her life to become had she returned. Neither do we hear Ruth complain about her current condition. But, we do know that she chose to go to an uncertain place rather than return to her prior and familiar home. It is Naomi who now steps in with a plan to “seek some security” for her daughter-in-law.

Naomi provides pretty explicit instructions as she urges Ruth to pursue Boaz. Even our somewhat sanitized translations convey sexual overtones in this passage. This is definitely not a text suggesting that women patiently wait for their prince to show up and save the day:

The scenario is reminiscent of Hebrew Bible narratives in which women use trickery and sexuality to force a man’s hand to manipulate those in power to do right by them (see Gen. 19:30-38; 29:21-30; 38:6-26). Rather than condemning such tactics, these narratives memorialize the desperate struggles of women who have few or no other options who risk everything just to survive. They have a mimetic function, forcing us to see where unjust socio-economic structures place women in a similar plight today. (Eunny P. Lee)

While the women demonstrate agency over their own circumstances, their vulnerability also weaves throughout the narrative.

Having and deploying agency does not indicate exemption from vulnerability. It exhibits the courage necessary to overcome. Ruth’s decision to stay with Naomi wasn’t made in naivete. She knew, better than anyone else, what life awaited her given the two options before her. She chose this path…and, mostly, she chose a companion for the journey. The legal and societal linkage between the two women no longer bound them together. This was a choice made of love and commitment. Their relationship reflects mutual care and concern:

Prior to this, Naomi herself receives companionship and support from Ruth, her daughter-in-law and fellow widow, after the deaths of their husbands. Naomi’s advocacy on Ruth’s behalf with their relative Boaz reflects the Abrahamic vocation to be a blessing to every family on the earth (Gen. 12:3)–in spite of Joshua, Nehemiah, and other prohibitors of alliances with people of other faiths. (Bob Ekblad)

Ruth’s action suggests that the security of compassionate relationship superseded all the other known and unknown insecurities she would face. She, along with Naomi and Boaz, also demolishes societal and cultural norms in the process. Naomi and Ruth live within a culture that marginalizes them due to their status as widows (and as foreign for Ruth), yet they demonstrate fortitude and resilience in response to oppression. Further, they lend their measure of strength to the care of one another and do not hoard it for their own personal gain. That’s security found in community.

They choose Boaz for Ruth. Again, this disrupts cultural norms. They declare his worthiness and character. Yet, Boaz isn’t tricked into anything. His agency isn’t stolen from him or impinged in any way. Ruth, under Naomi’s guidance, declares her intentions towards him, and he has the option to accept or reject her proposal. This also reflects a mutual relationship not a submissive one on either part.

Unfortunately, the lectionary skips over much of their story. As Thomas W. Mann notes:

Those who included Ruth in the canons of both Judaism and Christianity were not as puritanical as the compilers of the Revised Common Lectionary who omitted the “sex scene” in ch. 3. Naomi instructs Ruth how to seduce Boaz (3:1-5), but the lection skips to their marriage and parenthood (4:13-17), omitting also the legalities involving marriage and property. There is neither a court scene nor a bedroom scene, yet both are crucial to the plot.
The full story merits reading or at least summary. This story does not intend to be sanitized. That’s a false security that feigns innocence that actually leads to insecurity driven by ignorance and denial. Sermons and bible studies that never touch on human sexuality leave faith communities without language and framework for such conversations and reflection at best and foster a repressed, shameful, and secretive view of sex at worst.

Mann also identifies that the omission “leaves the false impression that men are the chief protagonists, for Ruth never appears or speaks, and Naomi’s role is reduced to that of silent grandma.” The full story, however, is truly her story–Naomi and Ruth as the primary characters. Even God seems to have a secondary role…in the background.

We know from the beginning of their story that part of Ruth’s commitment to Naomi involved following Naomi’s God. Faith runs through the narrative, but as an undercurrent, largely unseen, yet still making an impact. When we think toward our own future and the uncertainty we consider, the overall decline in church attendance in many communities remains a source of concern in the local and wider church. I have heard some decry those individuals who identify as “spiritual but non-religious.” Ruth’s story tells us that God in the background still reigns with power and affect.

God in the background brings new life to the union between Ruth and Boaz. God in the background vindicates Naomi among her community as this child, who is not of her blood, is a descendant of her relationship of mutual love, loyalty, and faithfulness. And, Ruth’s child Obed is the ancestor of Mary’s child Jesus, born of David, son of Jesse. An foreign woman who tragically lost her husband travels with her mother-in-law, defies conventions as necessary throughout the journey, and reaches her destiny as a progenitor of the Light of the World. That’s God in the background.

Where might God be in the background as we confront our future?

This narrative reminds us that puppet-master is not a proper name for God, who still speaks but doesn’t pull strings. God works in and through people. We are created as participants in creation with a role of care, responsibility, and accountability for all of our siblings, including creation itself. In this passage, we witness the Holy One bless what the people who have committed to God have already done.

Boaz is an important character but his role is supportive, not primary, in this narrative. God certainly is always important but does not dominate the action. In our own lives, individual and collective, as we confront a future seemingly fraught with peril, we might be tempted to seek security in different forms. We might look for material reinforcement, or we might latch onto leaders who promise the impossible. We may cling to past solutions to current conditions, or we may even attempt to ignore and deny the realities facing us. Our fear of the unknown or attachment to perfectionism may paralyze us and keep us standing still when it’s time to move. Or, our desire to just do something–anything–may press us forward when it’s time for discerning and wisdom seeking. We may think we’re the lead when we’re there to support or vice versa. We may also believe that we are alone when, in truth, God is in the background.

Remember, when Ruth promised her allegiance to Naomi, all she offered was what she could guarantee–her presence. When Naomi, in turn, seeks security for Ruth, she identifies a person whose presence in her daughter-in-law’s life will make the difference. When Ruth’s descendant, Jesus, comes to us, it’s fulfillment and renewal of the covenant commitment of abiding presence. The future is unknown and uncertain, but this is secure: God is with us…even in the background.

For further reflection:
“We can’t be afraid of change. You may feel very secure in the pond that you are in, but if you never venture out of it, you will never know that there is such a thing as an ocean, a sea. Holding onto something that is good for you now, may be the very reason why you don’t have something better.”— C. JoyBell C.
“Perhaps home is not a place but simply an irrevocable condition.”— James Baldwin
“Do not stop thinking of life as an adventure. You have no security unless you can live bravely, excitingly, imaginatively; unless you can choose a challenge instead of competence.”— Eleanor Roosevelt

A preaching commentary on this text (with works cited) is at https://www.ucc.org/what-we-believe/worship/sermon-seeds/.

The Rev. Dr. Cheryl A. Lindsay, Sermon Seeds Writer and Editor (lindsayc@ucc.org), is a local church pastor and worship scholar-practitioner with a particular interest in the proclamation of the word in gathered communities. You’re invited to share your reflections on this text in the comments on our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/SermonSeeds.

About Weekly Seeds

Weekly Seeds is a United Church of Christ resource for Bible study based on the readings of the “Lectionary,” a plan for weekly Bible readings in public worship used in Protestant, Anglican and Roman Catholic churches throughout the world. When we pray with and study the Bible using the Lectionary, we are praying and studying with millions of others.

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Weekly Seeds is a service of Local Church Ministries of the United Church of Christ. Bible texts are from the New Revised Standard Version, © 1989 Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Prayer: Reproduced from Revised Common Lectionary Prayers © 2002 Consultation of Common Texts. Used by permission.