A Story of Serendipity

This week we wrapped up our journey through the beautiful story of Ruth. We got to hear from one last character in the story who gave us a bit of a bird’s eye view of the whole thing. This allowed us to see that what would have been experienced by the people in the story as nothing more than ordinary life working itself out ordinarily was really God’s accomplishing His extraordinary plans through ordinary means. God does this through the Scriptures and He is still in the same business today in our own lives. Let’s marvel at all of this together. Thanks for reading and sharing.

A Story of Serendipity

Have you ever experienced something that was perfectly serendipitous? It was one of those moments when everything just fell into place like you wanted. Everything worked so perfectly that it almost seemed like someone else was pulling the strings. Sometimes we’re aware of that kind of thing happening in a moment, but more often we don’t see it until we look back with the clear vision of hindsight. I can point to a few different circumstances like that in my own life including the ones surrounding the time I first met my lovely bride. If we lived in a world that was perfectly fair, I would never have gotten the chance to even meet her. Thankfully, we don’t live in that world. We live in a world presided over by a God who is just and good and righteous and who has incredible plans for us that He works out in ways that are delightful, surprising, and which often feel very serendipitous. 

For the last three weeks, in a series called, “A Love Story,” we have been together experiencing a story that has just that sort of serendipitous feel to it. And I say, “experiencing,” not, “telling,” because that’s the better word for it. Each week we have encountered the next part of the story of Ruth through the eyes of one of the characters who were in it. We started with Naomi and her realization that even when things are bitter, God is still with us. From there, we rejoiced with Ruth in the fact that when we are picking up the pieces, God won’t leave us alone. Just last week we marveled with Boaz in the truth that risks of faith are rewarded with gifts of life. It all works out to some pretty incredible truth from a tiny, little story. 

This morning, as we wrap up our journey and Ruth’s story, we are going to experience things from yet one more perspective. We are also going to answer the question you may have wondered about as to why the series is called, “A Love Story.” The big idea of each part of the story so far has been good, but it hasn’t had anything to do with a love story. Before we leave this morning, my hope is that you will have a much better understanding of just why this love story is so powerful. This week, we are going to be in the final chapter of Ruth’s story. If you have a copy of the Scriptures handy, find your way to Ruth 4. Follow along as we take one last dive into the story to see how the ways God works that seem perfectly serendipitous can really serve to reveal the good plans He was patiently unfolding all along. 

…and you should have seen the look on his…

Oh! Hello there. What are a group of fine looking travelers such as yourselves doing in these parts? You don’t look particularly weary—except for that guy with his eyes closed over there—so you can’t have traveled far. I don’t recognize you, though, so you must be fairly new to this place. I was just telling my…well, now, where did he go? Hmm… Anyway, I was just telling my friend who seems to have disappeared the story of the goings on of late in the city gates. It is quite a tale. I believe I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve already repeated it. You look as if you don’t have anywhere to go for at least a few minutes. If you are amenable, I don’t mind telling it one more time. Did I mention that it is quite a tale? 

I suppose I should introduce myself so we aren’t strangers any longer. My name is Kenaz, and I am a member of the elders of the city of Bethlehem. It is our duty to attend to the important matters of governing this fine city. We don’t always agree on the details of every issue that comes before us, but we are all committed to preserving the way of life we have built here over the generations. While the various tribes around us may be descending into chaos, we are a delightful slice out of a simpler past that was free from some of the troubles that threaten to disrupt the lives of so many of our brothers and sisters.

We do most of our work within the city gates. The gates are the prize of our community. I happen to think they are rather magnificent. And no matter what anyone tells you, it’s not just because my great, great grandfather helped to build them. They are legitimately a work of art.

Anyway, it’s been a few months since this all happened, but with Obed’s recent arrival, everyone is talking about it again. It was one of the most incredible things I’ve ever seen. You’re probably wondering what it was. Well, it all started just a few months before that when Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth, arrived in town. For Naomi it was a homecoming of sorts. She and Elimelech had left so many years before. No one was sure if they were even planning to return again. We had held and managed his land for many years, but some of his relatives were starting to get a bit restless. Good land like that simply going to waste was not something anyone was interested in seeing happen much longer. It was easy in the early days when the famine was still ravaging the land and no one could plant anyway, but once the rains returned, we had to get pretty stern with some of the members of the community about respecting other people’s property. 

Thankfully, Naomi returned. Unfortunately, Elimelech was not with her. Neither were Mahlon and Chilion. Everyone thought the world of Naomi, but the law was the law. She couldn’t own the land. It had to pass to the next male heir in the family line. Yet no one wanted to simply force her off the land. We all decided to give her a few months to get things in order before the sale happened. If God’s blessing was on her, it would be taken on by a relative willing to allow her to continue living there with Ruth. If not…well…I’m not sure what they would have done. 

Naomi and Ruth were settled on the land, but since no one was cultivating it, they didn’t have any means of feeding themselves. Thankfully, our good and faithful town has been observing the gleaning laws for many generations. And few have been more faithful about this than Elimelech’s cousin, Boaz. He may not have been first in line for the land, but he was wealthy enough without it. And when Ruth—who really is a remarkable young woman—set out to glean enough barley to feed her and Naomi, the first field she went to was one of Boaz’s. 

Their relationship developed quickly from there. She was in one of his fields every single day for the rest of the harvest season. I saw with my own two eyes how hard she worked to gather enough for the pair of them to make it through the coming dry season. And, as it just so happened—if you know what I mean—Boaz happened to spend most of his time each day managing the very same field she happened to be in. It was the strangest thing you ever saw! He may have acted like it, but not a single one of us was surprised when she went to him to ask if he would be the kinsman redeemer for her and Naomi, and take her as his wife. 

There was just one problem. Like I just noted, Boaz was not first in line to purchase Elimelech’s estate. And, Ruth was a part of that estate. In order to marry Ruth, he had to figure out a way to get himself moved to the front of the line. This, of course, led to another problem: Joel was in the way, and he wasn’t going to be easy to move. 

Joel was Elimelech’s first cousin, and although there was nothing particularly wrong with him, he wasn’t Boaz. What I mean is that he didn’t share Boaz’s character of righteousness. He was not an unjust man, but his first concern was always what could increase his own holdings and make himself richer. Once he learned he was at the head of the line to acquire Elimelech’s land, it was hard to imagine he was going to be willing to pass on the opportunity. 

But Boaz had a plan. Joel had been out of town during the harvest season doing business elsewhere and wasn’t aware of the latest goings on in the community. Boaz knew this. He also knew he had just returned from his travels and would be at the city gates the morning after Ruth’s proposal. Boaz made sure he was there early that next morning, watching for Joel’s arrival. Then it happened. Joel came striding through the gates with all his usual vigor and Boaz called him over for a conversation. Then he gave the signal he had already worked out with the town council and the ten of us came and joined them. In front of all of us, Boaz explained the situation with Naomi and the sale of Elimelech’s land. Just to be sure everything was kept very official, he spoke very formally. He didn’t want any chance of things not going according to his plans. 

“Naomi, who has returned from the territory of Moah, is selling the portion of the field that belonged to our brother Elimelech. I thought I should inform you: Buy it back in the presence of those seated here and in the presence of the elders of my people. If you want to redeem it, do it. But if you do not want to redeem it, tell me so that I will know, because there isn’t anyone other than you to redeem it, and I am next after you.” Then he waited. We all knew, though, that he would not be waiting long. Joel almost leaped out of his seat at the thought of the increased profits he knew could come from Elimelech’s land. It was good land after all. But he quickly composed himself and said, “I want to redeem it.” 

Joel almost immediately started to pull off his sandal for the exchange, but the rest of us sitting there could see the twinkle in Boaz’s eyes. Things were going exactly as he had planned. There was just one more piece to move into place. Boaz spoke up one more time. “There’s just one more matter to discuss, Joel, that I nearly forgot about. I feel you should know that ‘on the day you buy the field from Naomi, you will acquire Ruth the Moabitess, the wife of the deceased man, to perpetuate man’s name on his property.’” In other words, the land comes with a wife with whom you will be morally obligated to have a son. And when that son is born, he and his future family will inherit the land, not you and your family. As someone may one day observe should a game ever be invented that works along these lines: Check and mate. 

Joel looked confused for only a moment as it dawned on him what had just happened. There was a flash of anger, but it passed quickly. Boaz’s move may have been sneaky, but even if it had not been a bit sneaky, the facts were still the facts, and the law was still the law. The land and Ruth were a packaged deal. It was both or neither. Joel knew he could not take on both, and so neither it was. Now when the sandals were exchanged to seal the deal, it was Boaz coming away with the land as well as the greater prize he truly sought: Ruth. We spoke a blessing over him, and the whole deal was settled. 

I knew something of Naomi’s story. It was one of tragedy and heartbreak many times over. It’s no wonder she insisted on being called Mara—bitter—when she returned to us. She may have returned to the Promised Land from the wilderness, but she was far more worn and broken by life than she had been when she left. And even though her years had not yet been long, Ruth had borne her own load of troubles too. No bride should lose her husband so young. It had seemed like both of them were afflicted by God Himself. And yet, here we are. Not even Boaz himself could have planned things out so carefully for so many blessings to flow so freely to a previously embittered pair. Boaz and Ruth were married right away and she was pregnant in no time. When Naomi herself delivered their son, you could hear her cries of delight echoing across the whole city. 

The women of the city came and celebrated with Naomi. They spoke a beautiful word of praise to the Lord over the way things had turned out. “Blessed be the Lord, who has not left you without a family redeemer today. May his name become well known in Israel. He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. Indeed, your daughter-in-law, who loves you and is better to you than seven sons, has given birth to him.” Everything just fell into place, one thing after another. It had seemed to Naomi like everything was all tragedy all the time, but then she had Ruth with her. Ruth met Boaz. Boaz provided for them. He was willing to marry Ruth. The pair of them gave Naomi a male heir to continue the name of her family. I doubt a clever storyteller could have come up with a happier turn of events on purpose. And to think: It all happened just so. It’s almost like someone was behind the scenes, pulling the strings, to make sure it all fell into place in just the right time and place. Of course, between you and me, we all know that’s exactly what was going on. God is good, my friends—for we are friends now that we have shared in this great story. He is good and He will keep working things out according to His good plans. Who knows what will come of this, but I have the distinct impression that it is going to be good for everyone. Well, it is time for me to be off. There is a council matter that demands my attention. Until we meet again. 

All great stories have happy endings. Justice somehow is served. The good guys win. The bad guys lose. Wrongs are righted. That’s just the way our stories go. But, you know, if you think about it, it’s really kind of interesting that this is the case. I mean, if you take the Christian worldview completely out of the equation for a moment, the world is bleak and dark and hard, and then you die. Why should we expect that stories should have a happy ending like this? So many of our stories don’t. People make terrible choices that ruin the lives of other people and nothing ever seems to happen about it. People who make really good choices throughout their lives get taken far too young and far too quickly by illnesses we are powerless to fight. Another person gets knocked down, heroically gets back up, and then the world knocks him down again and laughs at him to boot. The modern turn of stories that are much darker than they used to be reflects some of this pessimism that should be inherent to us. And yet even our darkest stories today tend to have happy endings. It’s like we just can’t help it. 

Actually, we can’t help it. This inherent hopefulness is part of our created design because we were created in the image of the God of hope. Underneath all the sin and brokenness that defines so much of our lives is a core bit of programming that remembers how things used to be. There was a day when everything was perfect. Then it wasn’t. We long for that day to come again and all of our stories reflect it. What’s more, our gracious God keeps dropping reminders to us that this longing is true and justified and not just wishful thinking. He does this by giving us stories like Ruth. 

Ruth is powerful enough by itself. It is made even more powerful when we put it in its proper context during the time of the judges. That was an incredibly dark and depressing time that seemed to justify all the pessimism we talked about a second ago. It was precisely during this dark time that God was writing one of the brightest, most hopeful stories in the entire Hebrew Bible. That’s just how our faithful God does it. No matter how dark things seem to get, He is writing a story of hope and light that will dispel the darkness. And the thing is, so much of this darkness-dispelling happens in ways that are not incredible to observe. We marvel at Ruth’s story, but if you think about it, none of it was in reality. Sure there are a few places near the end that seem awfully “coincidental” where God was gently guiding events toward the end He had determined for them, but most of it was just mundane. It was people doing their ordinary lives in ordinary ways. And through all of that, God accomplished His remarkable plans. God accomplishes His extraordinary plans through ordinary means. 

And it is the postscript of Ruth’s story that helps us see just how remarkable those plans were. The editor who put this story to papyrus some number of years after the events unfolded—probably during the reign of King David—adds a note just after telling us that Ruth and Boaz’s son was named Obed. He tells us that Obed eventually grew and had a son of his own named Jesse. Then, Jesse eventually had a son named David. For Israelites later hearing this story told, they would have marveled at this. This story of serendipitous yet perfectly ordinary events turns out to have been used by God to bring to the world the greatest King Israel ever had. Of course, on this side of the cross, we understand God’s extraordinary work in the ordinary of life here accomplished even more than that. As the apostle Matthew and Dr. Luke would later tell us, David’s family line stretched on for many more generations, but eventually coalesced in a man named Jesus who just happened to be the Savior of the world who would finally bring into reality the hope that kept cropping up in all of our stories. God accomplishes His extraordinary plans through ordinary means. 

Friends, what God did in the lives of Ruth and Naomi, He can still do in your life today. He is still in the business of accomplishing His extraordinary plans through ordinary means. He is bigger than your story, whatever it happens to be. He is guiding it patiently and faithfully to the end that will bring Him the most glory and you the most joy. If you are willing to follow His lead, you will experience those very things. And the very best way to follow His lead is to give your life to Jesus, the ancestor of Ruth to whom God was really angling the whole time. 

Jesus, of course, was superlatively remarkable. He was God and man; the absolute fullness of each in one person. He was a powerful teacher. He attracted huge crowds. He performed jaw-dropping miracles. He died on the cross and rose from the grave. Nothing about Jesus was ordinary. But the people around Him? They were all ordinary. Ordinary people living ordinary lives. But wait, you might be thinking. The disciples were extraordinary. No, you are mistaken in that. They were ordinary. But Jesus was extraordinary, and when they aligned their lives with His, His extraordinary simply shined through them. And that’s how God has always worked. God accomplishes His extraordinary plans through ordinary means. When you submit your life to Him, He will accomplish His extraordinary plans through the ordinary means of your life. 

This is what He has always wanted to do. He’s always wanted to do this because He is that much in love with you. Creation itself and the timeline of human history have been one grand love story. Ruth’s story is merely an echo of this greater one. So is yours. The daily details of your life may not always seem that extraordinary, but God has always been in the business of accomplishing His extraordinary plans through ordinary means. And He is so committed to your being a part of this story that He was willing to send His own Son to die in your place to make it possible for you to do it. As we wrap up our time together this morning, this is exactly what we are going to remember and celebrate together. We started this journey like this, and now we are finishing it in the same way: with the Lord’s Supper. Bookend reminders of God’s great love for you in Christ. 

When you and I were hopelessly separated from God by sin, but loved us so much that He sent His only Son to die in our place. Jesus came, lived a perfect life, and then offered Himself to God instead of us as the perfect sacrifice. We remember this in the bread we eat. As it is broken, Jesus’ body was broken for us. Yet God did not want only a way for us to get back to Him, but a way for us to stay right with Him. This meant a new covenant. We remember this in the juice. As we drink it, we remember Jesus’ blood was poured out for us to sign and seal that new covenant of life with the Father. 

If you have committed your life to being a part of His story, of allowing Him to work His extraordinary plans through your ordinary life, then you are invited to eat and drink with all those who have done the same. If you’re not there, we are glad you are here, but I am going to ask you to hold off on eating and drinking for now, so that when you have gotten there, it can mean for you all that it was designed to mean. As we eat and drink together after the deacons have served in a few moments, let us offer up our praise and gratitude to the God who loved us so much that He made it possible for us to be a part of His love story; the greatest love story ever told. Let us worship Him for accomplishing His extraordinary plans through our ordinary lives. Then, let us commit to living out and sharing those plans every chance we get. 

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