Yesterday’s message …
- Benefitted from a mid-week bottom line upgrade … a helpful example of “sounding out the sermon” in advance, realizing the existing bottom line was ‘meh’ and a new one emerged;
- Began with the shared trauma of the middle school lunch room trauma that many of us share;
- Observed that the world is divided into insiders and invisibles.
- Built on the “visual” pattern in Ruth 2 … “in your eyes” and “that you notice me” recur throughout;
- Led to this bottom line: When you choose to see the invisible, your impact will be incredible.
Is there anything more terrifying than the middle school lunch room? Many of you remember it, others of you are scarred from it, and then others are in the middle of it right now. Because you’ve got tables and you’ve got pecking orders and you have the American version of the caste system. The cool kids are at one table, and those seats are by invitation only!, the tweeners are at another table and then the misfits or outcasts or invisibles at still another table. And the cool kids don’t even SEE the un-cools. The world, it seems isn’t so much divided between INSIDERS and OUTSIDERS but between INSIDERS and INIVISIBLES.
Sadly, for me, 7th grade for reasons still not entirely clear other than the fact that I looked like this
(AV middle part), was a downer. I had been on the margins of the cool table in 6th grade but then for 7th I was banished to the lower rungs of the tweener tables. Maybe it was because football was cool and tennis was not, or maybe it was just their way of saying Wash your hair please!
But what I wanted more than anything, especially for the cool guys or the pretty girls was, SEE ME! NOTICE ME! DON’T IGNORE ME BUT INCLUDE ME! And although those things SORTA work out in high school – sort of – this dynamic is still at play when you go back for high school reunions, when you start a new job, when you walk into a new church, when you move to a new city. I’ve even felt it in preacher’s gatherings, where it’s clear who are the Insiders and who are the Invisibles. And more than once, as if it’s 7th grade all over again, I’ve been like SEE ME! NOTICE ME! INCLUDE ME! INSIDERS and INVISIBLES.
Maybe you’re in that place today … feeling invisible at work, in church, in city, even in your family. And then there’s others of you and you only have the slightest, tiniest realization of it … but you’re an INSIDER and your vision is highly selective. You see people you like, people you ARE like, people who can help you but the rest have become … invisible.
That dynamic between INSIDER and INVISIBLE has everything to do with Help! I Need Somebody and our journey into the book of Ruth. Here’s the situation … it’s about 1200 BC and Ruth is a YOUNG WIDOW and his helping care for her MIL Naomi who is an OLD WIDOW. And Ruth is from the area and people called Moab, meaning she is a Moabitess, which means that in the minds of the ancient Jews her ancestry.com is rooted in incest. I kid you not. So she has returned to Bethlehem which is Naomi’s home but not hers … Naomi is the insider (but not really cool) and Ruth is invisible. And in the culture of that day, these two very vulnerable widows need the welcome and security of a bet av – a male-led family compound.
So … today’s excerpt begins with a meanwhile back at the Bat Cave aside:
Now Naomi had a relative on her husband’s side, a man of standing from the clan of Elimelek, whose name was Boaz.
Man Of Standing. A-ha1 The ultimate INSIDER! A pillar of the community. That’s Boaz. And the contrast is coming; look at 2:2:
And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the fields and pick up the leftover grain behind anyone in whose eyes I find favor.”
The writer is so skillful. The Moabitess. He just has to add it! It’s his way of saying, “See her? No one else does. She has nothing in common with the guy I just introduced. Nothing.” Well, after that character introduction, it’s time to get down to work. Literally. It’s a farming operation and Boaz is the CEO. But he is adept at Mgmnt By Walking Around and so look what happens when he does just that in 2:4:
Just then Boaz arrived from Bethlehem and greeted the harvesters, “The Lord be with you!”
“The Lord bless you!” they answered.
That’s interesting. He sounds like a priest there, doesn’t he? He’d be sued today for a toxic work environment, but in that day the author is letting you know up front: this Big Shot knows who he is because he knows the Lord. Not as an add on; as the center.
And then 2:5:
Boaz asked the overseer of his harvesters, “Who does that young woman belong to?”
Ah, he knows the Lord so he SEES people that to others are invisible. The answer in 2:6:
The overseer replied, “She is the Moabite who came back from Moab with Naomi.
Notice that? All she is is a label. Not a name. An insult. Adding insult to invisibility. But something – or someone – is deep at work in Boaz. So while Ruth is at midday working, clad all in wool, burka-like in stifling heat, the CEO goes to speak with her:
So Boaz said to Ruth, “My daughter, listen to me. Don’t go and glean in another field and don’t go away from here. Stay here with the women who work for me. 9 Watch the field where the men are harvesting, and follow along after the women. I have told the men not to lay a hand on you. And whenever you are thirsty, go and get a drink from the water jars the men have filled.”
Wow! He not only provides for her food but he protects her from what we’d call today sexual harassment. He had to protect her from it because no doubt she’d already been subject to it. She’s not a person, after all, she is a Moabite. Invisible except as an object.
Then check 2:10.
At this, she bowed down with her face to the ground. She asked him, “Why have I found such favor in your eyes that you notice me—a foreigner?”
I love this. He’s a man of standing so she becomes a woman of kneeling & yet look at what she says: Why have I found favor IN YOUR EYES that you NOTICE me – a foreigner? There it is again! You’re an insider, I’m invisible, how in the world did you see me? The answer? It starts in 2:11:
Boaz replied, “I’ve been told all about what you have done for your mother-in-law since the death of your husband—how you left your father and mother and your homeland and came to live with a people you did not know before.
Ok, I’ve heard of how good you were to Naomi; that when logic left your love clung. And then the answer develops in 2:12 where we discover just why this invisible woman is not an inconvenience or an imposition but instead someone worthy of his recognition and protection:
May the Lord repay you for what you have done. May you be richly rewarded by the Lord, the God of Israel, under whose wings you have come to take refuge.”
A-ha! She’s a daughter of the King! Remember how we met Boaz and his first words were about the Lord? This isn’t some kind of sensitivity training or diversity workshop; it’s a deeply God-centered way of seeing people in general & Ruth in particular.
So the Insider sets the Invisible up for success. She emphasizes it again in 2:13:
“May I continue to find favor in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have put me at ease by speaking kindly to your servant—though I do not have the standing of one of your servants.”
In your eyes. He allows her to glean – essentially picking up leftover crops to which she has no right (2:14) and she ends up with an abundance. Look what she takes home to Naomi:
She carried it back to town, and her mother-in-law saw how much she had gathered. Ruth also brought out and gave her what she had left over after she had eaten enough.
In a subsistence based economy, LITERALLY hand to mouth and day to day, to wind up with extra is remarkable supernatural. So Naomi innocently asks where all this surplus has come from:
Her mother-in-law asked her, “Where did you glean today? Where did you work? Blessed be the man who took notice of you!”
The answer? 2:19b.
Then Ruth told her mother-in-law about the one at whose place she had been working. “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz,” she said.
Mic drop. Book end with the “oh by the way” in 2:1. You, Ruth, an invisible product of incestuous ancestry, you got in good with the ultimate insider? Help You needed someone and you got better than you need? How did it all happen & what does it all mean?
Man, the eyes have it. The 2:2, 2:10, 2:10, 2:13, 2:19. This insider who sees one who is invisible; more than that, he gives her dignity and standing. Here it is: When you choose to see the invisible, your impact will be incredible. Because if you see only you or you see only those who look like you or you see only insiders, your live will be small. Less than. It will mean you live for you and, gulp, you love you some you. That no one appreciates you quite like you do. That gets real old real fast.
But when you – especially if you are in any sense an insider – when you see the previously invisible, when you see how God sees, when you NOTICE, whew! The sky is the limit. How does this story end? Subsistence becomes surplus! There’s crop left over! That’s the ultimate in living large and Boaz is the one who started it. When you choose to see the invisible, your impact will be incredible.
Here’s the deal, those of you who work in a structure (office or plant) or go to a school: who cleans the building? Don’t say “the janitor” or “the custodian” or even “the cleaning guy.” The name. That person more than likely won’t ensure your promotion or upgrade your report card and guarantee that you have a reserved parking place. They are all but invisible. And your life is small because you fail to see them and/or know their name. When you choose to see the invisible, your impact will be incredible.
Lord, I was so glad when we moved from NJ to KY so I could study for ministry. I’d been in NJ for seven years by that time. I was in some culture shock. And so one teacher there took the time to seek me out and say, “You must be in some serious transition. How is the culture shock going?” “Thank you for noticing!” was how I answered. He didn’t have to solve a single problem. He did enough by seeing what to others was invisible.
Who is invisible in your life right now? The oddball at work, the outcast at school, the immigrant on the street? Or even the person you see at church? Because here’s the truth: we want this in LifeGroups. If your LifeGroup is full of people who look just like you, don’t be content with that. Proximity always conquers prejudice! See the colors and the languages and be color blessed without the fiction of color blind. I tell staff all the time: see with the eyes of a leader. Who do you see looking slightly lost, a little alone, in need of something or someone. (Some folks like their solitude and that’s ok!) You can be just like everyone else and not see the invisible or you can be extraordinary and REFRAIN. I know which I’m choosing. Every Ruth here, at work, and in school, needs a Boaz. Why not you? When you choose to see the invisible, your impact will be incredible.
Because guess what? Every Boaz is one day gonna be a Ruth. Every person who is currently an insider will find yourself in a situation where you are invisible. Could be when you walk in a new church. Could be when you accept a new job. Could be when you move to a new school. Definitely is when you move to a new city. Imagine how much more if it’s a new country with a different language. Every one of you who feels “seen” now will at some point be on the margins. You’ll be Ruth and you’ll give anything for a Boaz. Anything.
It’s like that high school freshman named “John” I heard about who noticed that another freshman named “Kyle” was walking home from school with what looked like ALL HIS BOOKS. “That’s odd,” the other kid thought. Then he saw a group of bullies run at the book carrying guy, trip him, spraying his books and knocking off his glasses. That kid was a Ruth and was so invisible he was an object of derision. So the other freshman, paused helped the guy pick up his books and retrieve his glasses. “Those guys are jerks” he said. “They should get a life.”
Turns out it was book-carrying kid’s first day ever at the school. He and his new friend struck up a friendship, nothing intense but always enjoyable. Fast forward four years, and “John” is preparing to go play college football at Duke while “Kyle” – book carrying kid – is gonna go to Georgetown on an academic scholarship. He’s also become the valedictorian of the class. And so at graduation, here’s how Kyle’s speech began: READ
GRADUATION IS A TIME TO THANK THOSE WHO HELPED YOU MAKE IT THROUGH THE TOUGH YEARS – PARENTS, COACHES, TEACHERS, FRIENDS. FRIENDS. I WANT TO THANK MY FRIEND JOHN WHO ON MY VERY FIRST DAY OF SCHOOL HERE DIDN’T KNOW WHY I WAS CARRYING ALL MY BOOKS HOME. IT WAS BECAUSE I WAS GOING TO KILL MYSELF AN DI DIDN’T WANT MY MOM TO HAVE TO CLEAN OUT MY LOCKER. I WAS BULLIED ON THAT DAY AND THAT JUST CONFIRMED THAT MY LIFE WAS OVER. BUT JOHN GOT IN THE WAY AND I WAS SAVED. MY FRIEND SAVED ME FROM DOING THE UNSPEAKABLE.
Yep, you think John the life saver wasn’t living large? That’s how it happens. REFRAIN and so all you Ruths and all you Boazes: keep your eyes open. Because who knows when you’ll keep the invisible from doing the unspeakable.