Let me tell you the story of a girl whose early life was marked with tragedy, who changed the course of history, and who is a testimony to the redeeming love of God. Her name is Kim Phuc.
On June 8th 1972, during the Vietnamese War, a south Vietnamese pilot decided to drop a napalm bomb on the village of Trang Bang. The bomb killed two of nine year old Kim Phuc's cousins, tore her clothes off, and severely burned her skin.
An Associated Press photographer caught the image of the villagers fleeing in terror. At the centre of the picture was a naked and screaming Kim Phuc. That photograph became an iconic image which was awarded a Pulitzer Prize and contributed towards the American's decision to pull out of Vietnam.
Kim Phuc continued to grow up in Vietnam and decided that she would like to study medicine. However, the communist government thought that she was too valuable an asset to have hidden away and used her for propaganda purposes. In 1982 the most significant moment of her life occurred, she placed her life in the redeeming hands of Jesus. Four years later she was given permission to study in Cuba. There she met and married another Christian.
In 1992 the couple set out for their honeymoon in Moscow. While on a stopover in Newfoundland, Canada, they left the plane, approached the authorities and asked for political asylum. They are now Canadian citizens with two children.
She has established the Kim Phuc foundation with the aim of providing medical and psychological assistance to child victims of war. She has spoken about how compassion and love helped heal her. She has publicly forgiven those responsible for the attack on her village.
Now let me tell you of another girl whose early life was marked with tragedy, who changed the course of history, and who is a testimony to the redeeming love of God. Her name is Ruth.
1. God calls us to costly love (1-12)
Ruth was from Moab, her people were enemies of God's people. Ruth becomes a widow, in a society where widows were amongst the most vulnerable. Ruth watches her mother in law's faith and takes refuge under the shadow of God's wings. Ruth shows extra-ordinary kindness to Naomi, going with her to Bethlehem and seeking to provide for her needs. Ruth reflects the kindness of God.
Ruth approached Boaz and in effect said, 'marry me!' Boaz recognises that this is an act of kindness. She hadn't run after younger men but had chosen him, a relative of Naomi's husband. Under the laws of Moses this would mean that Naomi would receive descendants and be provided for.
But there is a problem. There is a closer male relative than Boaz, who has priority for being a kinsman redeemer. So Boaz goes to city gate, which served as a town hall and courthouse, where the elders settled cases. Boaz has a plan based on the lack of generosity of this other relative.
When Boaz mentions the field Naomi has to sell the relative declares, 'I will redeem it'. But then Boaz ties Ruth into the transaction. Under the provisions of the law of Moses the first son born to the relative and Ruth would be considered to be the son of Ruth's dead husband. The whole thing could unsettle the provisions the man has made for his family.
On one hand Ruth made sacrifices to help Naomi, on the other hand the near relative is not willing to help her if it will cost him and his family. Are we willing to make sacrifices to show our love to each other? We are people whose God sent his Son into a world of rebellion, and whose Son gave his life as a ransom for many. We have benefited from a love that was willing to pay a great price for us. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers (Galatians 6:10).
2. God wants to use us as instruments of his kindness (13-17)
'So Boaz took Ruth and she became his wife. When he made love to her, the Lord enabled her to conceive, and she gave birth to a son.' Again we see the hidden hand of God. The writer isn't content to simply say that Ruth became pregnant, it was God who enabled her. One day we will that God has been far more active in our lives than we ever realised. In him we live, move and have our being (Acts 17:28).
The women said to Naomi: 'Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer ... He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age.'
The story began with death and finishes with life. Naomi returned to Bethlehem bitter and empty but God has shown her great kindness. He has shown her love through the person of Ruth. He has shown her love through the person of Boaz. Now in this child, who is legally her descendant, she can look forward to her old age knowing that he will take care of her. God uses people as instruments of his kindness. May each of us seek to be instruments in our Saviour's hands!
I love the way one version translates verse 16: 'then Naomi took the child and laid him on her lap and became his nurse' (ESV).
3. Our ordinary lives have extra-ordinary significance (18-22)
The book of Ruth is a lovely story involving a relative helping produce a descendant for someone who is deceased, under the provisions of the Old Testament law. With Ruth, Boaz continues the line from Elimelech. God has been kind to both the living and the dead!
Another story of a widow having a child with a relative of her deceased husband is found in the book of Genesis. That is the story of Tamar and Judah (mentioned in verse 12). That story is as grotesque as this is beautiful. Tamar dressed up as a prostitute to trick her father-in-law into sleeping with her. That union produced Perez.
The book of Ruth ends with a genealogy beginning with Perez. God can incorporate the sinful acts of his people into bringing about his purposes. That family line stretches to the great king of the Old Testament, King David. Matthew will open up his gospel with a genealogy that includes Judah and Tamar, the prostitute Rahab who was the mother of Boaz, Ruth the great grandmother of David, and ends with our great kinsman-redeemer Jesus Christ.
As nine year old Kim Phuc fled from her burning village in Vietnam could she ever have imagined the life that God had laid out before her? Could she have known that her courage, faith and forgiveness would be an inspiration to millions?
As Naomi returned to Bethlehem, empty and bitter, had she any idea how kind God would be to her? Could she grasp the fact that he is utterly trustworthy and would provide her with far more than her daily bread?
As Ruth journeyed, out of kindness to her mother in law, to the land of her people's enemy, could she ever have dreamt of how kind God would be to her? As she nursed her precious son, had she any idea how significant her descendants would be in bringing about God's plan of salvation?
God has plans for us as a church and he has plans for us as individual followers of Jesus. God has prepared works in advance for us to do (Ephesians 2:10). He invites us to imitate the kindness we see in the book of Ruth. His kindness and his people's kindness. This kindness is full of significance. It may seem ordinary now but one day we will see the eternal value of all that we do in and through the love of God, and we will enjoy the eternal reward that such acts bring.
So let us now pray that God would show us how we can know God's love, show God's love, and share God's love.