Dave on Ruth 3

This is an unrevised scribble subject to reconsideration.

After so much talk regarding Dave’s sermon a couple of weeks ago, I still had not heard it myself until yesterday. In fact, I only caught the tail end of the Ruth sermons along with the last student supper on the Sunday after the last evensong of term. So, given the discussion and teasing, what is my impression (as far as my memory goes)?

To begin, the Ruth 3 sermon is the most direct and challenging of the sermons, enough worth listening to that I will assume you have listened to it. The three Ruth sermons, while looking at three passages, each cover most of the framework of the story with a different slant. So, Ruth 3 is heavy on exegesis to build up the story of exactly what happened at the threshing floor and very homiletic, while Ruth 4 takes in the whole story through the theme of covenant in the last chapter to draw in a biblical theological hermaneutic.

The famous edgy Ruth 3 sermon then spends about half its meat drawing out what it is for Ruth and Boaz to be acting honourably. On the understanding that a lot of other OT ideals can be drawn in to explain what right relationships are, a lot of the innuendo is diffused. The exegesis has several good ‘spots’ which are helpful to recast the passage from a negative slant, and exhoronate Naomi as well, but it does feel immensely robust. Perhaps the NT gives us too high expectations, but exactly what Naomi is up to seems to me a little more up in the air than as construed. Nothing seems wrong though, but I would be cautious to read this much extra detail into a passage myself. The sort of embellishment preachers often do to flesh out a story to make it more vivid by describing the scenario with added detail is usually a little different given that the extra colour usually does not determine the cast of the passage so much. So, it was helpful and I liked the way Dave cleared up the events, but that sort of treatment makes me mildly reserved.

The second aspect of the sermon, the homiletics with the challenging applications, is where my views are least disinteresting. Dave points three main challenges: (1) to older Christians to turn from bitterness at not being able to act in God’s plans to being Naomis actively setting up and supporting younger Christians in their lives. Dave suggested supporting in mission and growth (and I think avoided mentioning outright the application of whether they should be matchmakers). (2) Younger Christian men should act as Boaz with the same purity and integrity as he shows on the threshing floor. (3) We should be intentional in the way we go about relationships. This applies particularly to men, but also to with qualifications to women (note that 2:12 is seen as Boaz’ opening).

It is the last point inevitably where most discussion was focused. While I approve of the basic idea, I am a little edgy with the tone which just seems a little more casual and out-to-get than I quite feel comfortable with. It is hard to be very much more clear, but I have been nudged perhaps by a little too much poetry and song to have a sort of objective intentionality. Possibly a little similarly to the last (unpublished) post contrasting holiness and maturity, I could draw the same sort of parallel respectively between purity and the marginally broader honourability. To draw an unconcrete example then, I would suggest that a nuance to draw out would be over how much we think Boaz is drawing on the ‘poetic’ ideals of love as a subtext. Judging this by exegesis here is essentially impossible, given our massive preconceptions of what we should be looking for, but without claiming I have entirely put my finger on it I feel that there is a little gentleness perhaps missing in the flavour I got from the sermon. To draw an extreme example from Petrarch (a rogue, but apparently a great poet, though I know no Italian so have only ever sung his sonnets), he can plan nothing but values every feeling he has. In his circumstances, it was entirely out of order to hold an affection for someone Laura who had told him to get lost, but in a different situation his expression shows that at least hope even checked and prevented from growing beyond its own spark can be valued. A purely ‘intentional’ approach, and Dave’s sermon does not seem to be directed at people coming with perspective either, misses this edge a little. A lot of the madrigals I have been looking at explore these sorts of ideas more, so Monteverdi and Ravenscroft may feature in future notes.

Where then? To thine own [honour] true. The rest is, after all, wisdom.