Community / Family or just a Collection of Individuals?
ILLUS.: It is an interesting phenomenon that in UK society the population growth rate is very small and yet the demand for housing is increasing esp. in the SE. There are many factors that influence this and I don’t want to be simplistic about it but one of the factors is that fewer people are marrying and of those that do marry 1/3 get divorced. Every time a couple split up two homes are needed instead of one.
There was a report this week that woman who have just had a baby feel isolated and stressed, unable to cope – they want more midwife / health visitor support. So now more research is going to be done!! Women have been having babies since the beginning of time – so what has changed? Family / community has become smaller and smaller – in the past there were mothers / grandmothers / sisters and aunts around to help. Now most of us live in isolated little boxes!!
Families are scattered all over the country if not the world.
We have no family in this country!!
The reasons for the present situation are complex – there are economic factors, moral factors, philosophical factors etc…. BUT what is clear is that we have become very individualistic. We talk about community but few are willing to sacrifice individual needs and wants for the sake of community. The choices we make about were we live, how we make our living, who we socialise with, who we live with / marry have become individual, private choices and actions YET whether we like it or not the choices we make do have an impact on the community.
Why am I going on about this? Because it struck me in reading Ruth how when Boaz decides to act as Ruth’s kinsman-redeemer and agrees to marry her, the whole community is involved.
1. Marriage – a man and a woman.
Boaz marries Ruth.
We have seen over the past weeks the responsibility of the ‘levir’. If a man died leaving a widow with no heir it was the responsibility of the man closest relative – usually his brother – to act as ‘Levir’. He was to bring the widow into his family and produce an heir through her for his brother.
This levirate duty did not always imply marriage – in the case of Judah and Tamar back in Genesis there was no marriage although Tamar did have a son by Judah even if it was by devious means.
In Ruth’s case the kinsman nearer than Boaz was unwilling to perform his levirate duty let alone marry Ruth because it would jeopardise his own estate.
Boaz is willing not only to perform the levirate duty BUT he wants to marry Ruth and love her as his wife.
Most of us like a good love story – Think about the great books / movies / plays / operas … how many are love stories? Probably this is so because deep down we all wanted to have an intimate relationship with another person who we can love and who will love us.
For those who are happily married it is a wonderful estate. Sadly for some it is far from happy and can be a desperate state.
Some would love to marry but the opportunity has never occurred. Some choose not to marry and are happy that way.
But whether we marry or not we all need to belong!
2. Marriage is a family affair.
Ruth 4:9-12 9 Then Boaz announced to the elders and all the people, “Today you are witnesses that I have bought from Naomi all the property of Elimelech, Kilion and Mahlon. 10 I have also acquired Ruth the Moabitess, Mahlon’s widow, as my wife, in order to maintain the name of the dead with his property, so that his name will not disappear from among his family or from the town records. Today you are witnesses!”
In vv.14-16 when a baby is born to Ruth and Boaz, the women of the town come to Naomi and rejoice with her at God’s goodness.
Contrary to what some people believe marriage is not a private affair. When you marry your marry a family. I know mothers-in-law are the butt of many jokes but it is true that in-laws have an influence on a marriage for good or bad – sometimes they are a support and sometimes an interference but they are there.
Once a couple has children it is often then that the in-laws descend.
So marriage is a family affair – when Naomi married Ruth no doubt Naomi came along as part of the deal. Marry the girl of your dreams and get the mother-in-law into the bargain!! We may joke about these things but it is important to realise that we marry into each others families!
3. Marriage is a community affair.
Ruth 4:11-12 11 Then the elders and all those at the gate said, “We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem. 12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” (NIV)
All the people are involved in this matter – they are called as witnesses to the agreement between Boaz and the nearer kinsman.
But all the people were also involved in the celebration – they pray for God’s blessing on Boaz and Ruth and rejoice with them when a son is born to them
In both the OT and NT the marriage is seen as both:
¨ Personal and relational as we focus on the couple …. And in..
¨ Social terms when we stand back and see the couple in their place in the wider community.
In Genesis 2:24 24 For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh. (NIV)
The leaving is understood as a public declaration – it is the occasion when the couple receives the public support of family and friends.
One preacher of the past, Bonhoeffer, put it like this, “Marriage is more than your love for each other. It has a higher dignity and power, for it is God’s holy ordinance … In your love you see only the heaven of your happiness, but in marriage you are placed at a post of responsibility towards the world and mankind. Your love in your own private possession, but marriage is something more than personal – it is a status, an office … that joins you together in the sight of God and man.”
The question many ask today is “Why get married?” “Why bother with a piece of paper?”
Besides saying that this is the way God designed it there is the social importance of public witness. The public witness of exchanging vows before God and people serve among other things to protect marriage in time of strain and difficult – it is a constant reminder of promises made and obligations entered into. Now I know many today disregard those promises.
For the Christian this is even more vital as part of the family / community of God. The church is to be a family – BUT let’s face it – we function more as a collection of individuals than we do as a family. (Unfortunately modern family life is not necessarily a good model to follow) Healthy families spend time together, they play together, the eat together, they learn together, they care of each other, they help each other, they celebrate together, they argue/fight and hopefully workout their differences together.
In the cultures like that of Israel the family was the extended family NOT husband / wife and 2.4 children – so singles and widows and teenagers and young adults were all part of family life.
I remember reading an African author responding to a western journalist who was critiquing rural African lifestyle. He responded by saying “You westerners criticise African life as backward and unsophisticated but you live in boxes stack one on top of each other. These towers of boxes spit you out in the morning you are sucked along tubes underground to emerge only to enter other boxes in which you sit all day shuffling papers and staring at machines. At the end of the day you go back the same way to your little isolated boxes to eat alone. AND you wants us Africans to exchange what we have living under the African sky for what you have?”
We have to acknowledge that for the most part modern western life is not in community. That greatly affects the church –
So marriage is not just a personal affair – it’s a community affair.
And into this context of family come children.
4. Marriage – the context for children.
Boaz and Ruth and their new baby were part of a wider community. This is reflected in the prayer for the child that he will influence the whole community – not just a benefit to his parents.
There was recognition that children were a gift from God to be part of God’s community for the benefit of all and for the glory of God. Children were not fashion accessories to be disposed of before birth if they might inconvenience the parent/s.
Go into our hospitals – at one end doctors and nurses are working day and night to save the lives of sick babies WHILE at the other end babies are being torn from their mothers wombs because they are unwanted [about 400 per day in the UK] Life is a gift from God!!
Look at verse 13 — Ruth 4:13 13 So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. Then he went to her, and the LORD enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son. (NIV)
God is the source of life – God enabled Ruth to conceive and give birth. The conception of a child is seen as a gift from God. The biblical witness is that life begins at conception…
Psalm 139:13-16 13 For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. 14 I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
your works are wonderful, I know that full well. 15 My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place. When I was woven together in the depths of the earth, 16 your eyes saw my unformed body. ….. (NIV)
Many modern secular thinkers agree – there is increasing evidence that the early foetal experiences are very significant – particularly the first three months of foetal life – the health and welfare of the mother can have marked effect on the developing personality.
Jeremiah 1:5 5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
before you were born I set you apart;
I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.” (NIV)
Conception is a gift from God. At conception all the human genes are present – a human person in process of becoming – a human being with a personal destiny under God.
God gave as a gift to Ruth conception and birth of Obed – That one child made a difference – he became the father of Jesse – the father of David – ultimately the father of Jesus Christ.
One child can make a difference – where would we be if the world never had
An Alexander Fleming who discover [w. others] penicillin, the Wright Bros. Who developed the aeroplane, Alexander G Bell who invented the telephone.
Think of the world without Mozart, Shakespeare, da Vinci ….
Think of the potential destroyed in those unborn children.
Wendy Swanson captures this sentiment in her song “All they need is a chance”
Proceed with caution
We’re making up the rules
Living for the moment
Like existential fools
A million unborn promises
We never knew their names
We’re gambling with the future
All they need is a chance
All they need is a single chance
One child could make a difference
One child could change the world.
We are not just a collection of individuals with personal RIGHTS. We are part of community. Esp. in the church!!
We all know that we do not live in a perfect world. Not all children are born to happy couples. Not all children who are conceived are born. Not all families stay together. There are many broken relationships and broken lives and broken hearts. Some are here now!
And we can easily retreat into our idealistic ivory towers and pontificate about the sad state of our world. OR we can be like the descendent of Boaz and Ruth – Jesus who came into a broken world with love and hope / forgiveness and sacrifice for others.
Maybe you have experienced a broken relationship / a terminated pregnancy that you now regret ~ We are all guilty about something. None of us is in a position to throw stones.
As Jesus said to the accusers of the woman caught in adultery “The one without sin let him cast the first stone!”
The whole message of the book of Ruth is about a kinsman-redeemer. The one who in compassion and love reaches out to one in need of love and care.
John 3:16-17 16 “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. (NIV)
We have all blown it – no matter how self-righteous we may think we are! The good news is that God invites all to be part of his family. And those of us who have come into God’s family by faith in Jesus are called upon to live as family / community.
The gospel means good news – and the good news is that no matter what we have done Jesus our kinsman-redeemer stand ready to welcome us into his family. All we must do is respond to his offer!
Lord, I believe; help now my unbelieving;
I come in faith because your promise stands.
Your word of pardon and of peace receiving
All that I am I place within your hands.
Let me become what you shall choose to make me
freed from the guilt and burden of my sins.
Jesus is mine, who never shall forsake me
And in his love my new-born life begins.