Yes, I am the vine; you are the branches. Those who remain in me, and I in them, will produce much fruit. For apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5 NLT
Have you ever started a conversation by saying, “You know the problem I have with our church is!”? Of course, there may be serious issues relating to personal misconduct or false doctrine, but more often than not our problem is that we may all be connected to the vine, we are at many different stages of growth. Some of us have been around for decades, but it has been so long since anyone harvested any of our fruit that it is overripe, mushy and a bit smelly. Then, we might find in the seat next to us Sir Jumps-a-lot, because he just became a Christian recently and His fruit is…well still a little bit tart! So, how in the world does Jesus expect us all to get along? The answer lies just a few verses ahead-
This is my commandment, that you love one another, as I have loved you. John 15:12 ESV
And how exactly has Jesus loved us? Well, according to verse one, it is by staying connected through thick and thin. Even on days when we are pretty lousy branches, or when our blossoms are frost blighted or when old age has weakened a few of our limbs Jesus sticks with us. Then, He tells us that our only job is to stay connected (abiding) in Him. As long as we do that, He steps in and lovingly prunes us back when our head grows a few sizes too big, He waters us when we are dry, and He feeds us when we are hungry for His word. His love connection is not determined by how well we are doing today, or our stage of maturity. Then Jesus asks us to do the same with other people at our church, in our families and with our friends. As branches, it is not our job to accept or reject the branches growing around us. Our job is to love them just as Jesus loved us. Then, when someone who is not a believer shows up, they just may be so amazed by that loving connection, that they want to know more. Ours may not be a “Perfect church” but I believe that it is exactly the kind that God has in mind. So, whatever our stage of growth this morning, let’s just stay focused on staying connected to Jesus. Then, just as He promised, He will be faithful to stay connected to us and see to it that our branches are filled with delicious fruit!
Picking up where we left the story of Boaz and Ruth, today we fast forward to the end of the harvest. One night as they are sitting in their home Naomi comes to Ruth with some very interesting advice. Naomi knows that the men will be partying that night because their work is done. They have received their wages, maybe even with a little bonus because of the good harvest and they will hold a celebration down at the threshing floor. So, Naomi tells Ruth to clean up, put on her best dress and don’t forget the perfume. Like any good Jewish mother, she is determined to leave nothing to chance! Then she sends Ruth out just as it is getting dark to the threshing floor and tells her to wait till after the men to finish eating and drinking and are finally lying down to sleep.
Following her instructions exactly, Ruth, tiptoes in between the stacks of grain to the spot where she finds Boaz is sleeping. Now before you think she is about to do something sketchy; the Bible makes it clear that all she does is lie down at his feet. This was no indecent proposal which Ruth has in mind, instead, it was a custom, rooted in the culture of Ancient Israel> She has come to appeal to Boaz to redeem her. Now, he is eligible to do this, not just because he was a rich single guy, but because he was a family member to Naomi’s late-husband. From that culture’s point of view, Boaz’s right to redeem most importantly was about, buying the land and home of Naomi. Of course, we know from the story that Boaz cared a whole lot more about marrying Ruth than any fields! And just like Boaz, Jesus waits for us. Though He has loved us enough to have given His life to pay for our redemption, He will never stride down to our house and demand our allegiance. Instead, Christ waits to hear our proposal, though long ago He has determined what His answer will be. And when we come and lie at His feet, He gives us a promise that He will redeem and tells us it is our turn to rest until morning. Then just like Boaz, Jesus is on the move! He leaves us with His promise of redemption, and we can trust that He will not stop until finally and forever we are His!
Remain tonight, and in the morning, if he will redeem you, good; let him do it. But if he is not willing to redeem you, then, as the Lord lives, I will redeem you. Lie down until the morning.” So, she lay at his feet until the morning but arose before one could recognize another. And he said, “Let it not be known that the woman came to the threshing floor.” Ruth 3:13-14 ESV
The book of Ruth is both one of the most romantic stories of the Bible as well as a beautiful picture of our relationship to Jesus Christ. It begins with a lovely, yet poor widow named Ruth. Ruth had chosen the difficult life of an immigrant, in order to care for her aging mother-in-law Naomi, and in the process had come to trust in Naomi’s God. Together they returned to the long-abandoned family home in the village of Bethlehem. With little savings, no promised help and no definite plans they face a desperate situation. So, on day one, Ruth goes to farm nearby where the men are harvesting barley. Being the accepted custom of the day to provide for the poor, Ruth quietly trails behind the workers gathering any heads of grain that had been missed. Suddenly onto the scene strides the wealthy (and single!) farmer named Boaz. Immediately, Boaz catches sight of Ruth and he not only likes what he sees, but he admires the loyalty and grit of this young lady of whom he has already heard. Of course, if this were a Hallmark movie there would be lots of drama, romantic mood music, and a bad guy or two lurking on the horizon. But the Bible paints a far simpler picture for us of Boaz’s growing love for Ruth, as he waits to see what God will do. Now me, if I were Boaz, I would have marched down to the cottage where Ruth and Naomi lived, knocked on the door and asked Ruth out for a date! But not Boaz, and not Jesus either. Yes, Jesus loves me, and the Bible tells me so. But Jesus also waits for us to come, just as Boaz waited…. So, stay tuned tomorrow to see how God mysteriously unfolds this amazing love story!