Building a Hesed Community

“Building a Hesed Community” – Ruth Part 1
Teaching Segment Notes by Randell Neudorf
Sunday, September, 16th, 2012
Read: Ruth 1-2

Today is the beginning of a new teaching series where we will be looking at some stories from the Old Testament for the rest of the fall.  The cohort has been looking for a way to stretch ourselves in our teaching times at Gathering. Churches are sometimes in danger of only looking at stories from one part of the bible, or on one particular subject. We really want to be able to grow as a community, and look at what God has to teach us in the stories and writings of His people. The People who lived before the birth of Jesus, during Jesus’ time on earth, and after he went back to heaven. Each of these unique periods of biblical history can help us hear what God wants to teach us today in Hamilton, at The Commons.

Susan and I went to a Mennonite Church Planting workshop that was talking about how to teach children, and we heard about this great curriculum called “Gather Round” (made by the Mennonite Church and some of its partners).

A number of churches (including our friends from Quest in Saint Catharines) said they really liked the Gather Round curriculum and they would highly recommend it. What really caught my attention was that a couple churches said they found it so useful that they actually used the Gather Round curriculum as a Liturgical calendar for their Adult teachings as well.

That is what we are starting to try out as well. We bought the Curriculum for the Kids in the Zone and us adults are going to be thinking about the same stories and themes as well. Gather Round fits within a Liturgical year by focusing on the Old testament in the fall, Advent in December, Stories of Jesus in the New Year that brings us right to Easter, and then Teaching books from the apostles in the spring.

We have already been moving towards a rhythm close to this and it is exciting to see this echoed in our chosen tribe of The Mennonites.

When I read the story of Ruth this week, it made me think a lot about our value of Community, something we often talk about as “Deep Community.”

I was reading through the Gather Round notes and I saw that they had identified the theme in Ruth as something they called “Hesed,” a Jewish word that is often translated as “Steadfast Love,” “Lovingkindness,” or “Covenant Loyalty.” This idea of Hesed or “commitment and loyalty” applies both to God and us, and between us and those around us. So the idea of Hesed works in a lot of different directions

When I look at The Commons trying to be a “deep community,” I think we need to really look at what it means to be a Hesed community.

  • Steadfast in our commitment to each other and God.
  • That we act in Love, not a mushy love but a solid Lovingkindness.
  • That we would be Loyal to each other and to our Maker. That this community would be bound together by God in a way that has the weight of a Covenant.
  • That we would experience and live out “Hesed.”

This is what we see in the book of Ruth. There was a bond and obligation that Ruth felt towards Naomi that went beyond her social obligation, her race, or her religion. It was something she chose.

In our story Naomi gave Ruth every opportunity for Ruth to walk away. There were two daughter-in-laws at the beginning of our story who were crying at Naomi’s feet, begging Naomi to let them stay with her. Naomi is very determined that this isn’t a good thing for these girls and even sarcastically says “What are you doing? Are waiting for me to have more sons that you can marry? I’m too old for that!”

There are more tears and one daughter-in-law relents, she does what Naomi asks and heads back to her own people and family. Naomi encourages Ruth to travel with her sister-in-law but Ruth will have none of that. She says:

“Please don’t tell me to leave you and return home! I will go where you go, I will live where you live; your people will be my people, your God will be my God.  I will die where you die and be buried beside you. May the Lord punish me if we are ever separated, even by death!”

Naomi sees that Ruth is very serious about this and she now relents and takes Ruth with her.

Here is our first example of “Hesed.” Ruth has chosen her community and has made a commitment or covenant to it. She aligned her fate with that of Naomi.

I think this is kind of a strange concept for us today. People aren’t big on “Covenants or Commitment.” We don’t like to be tied down or accountable to anyone or anything. Looking at Ruth’s words, it almost feels a little bit like a cult.

  • How do we be a “Deep Community” that is like a Covenant, without being Cult?
  • What would be some differences between “Deep Community” and a “Cult”?

I think choice would be a big difference. In a Cult you don’t have a lot of choices, you are more like a prisoner of the group when you try to leave or go against the group’s ideas. A Covenant on the other hand, is a profound choice and commitment that gives you a landmark to keep your bearings. It is like a marriage.

Legally either person in a marriage could leave the other any time they want to. A marriage is supposed to be a covenant; you could even say it’s a commitment to be committed. But commitment isn’t popular (weather we are talking about marriage, our friends, or even the stores in our neighbourhood that we shop at). People stay in their marriages and friendships on a day by day basis, and they choose every day to stay until one day they don’t feel like it anymore and then they choose to leave. A covenant is a marker that causes you to pause in a time like that. You still have every legal right to leave but you say, I made a Choice to be in a Covenant, do I really want to turn away from that?  I think Deep Community is like that. It is a covenant.

I’m going to pick on Matt today. Someday Matt might do something to really tick me off, and maybe I would have every right to be really pissed off at him, and on that day I might not feel like choosing to be in community (People leave churches all the time because of interpersonal problems). Someday I might feel like leaving, but I wouldn’t. I wouldn’t because I’m committed to living in Deep Community, I’m in a covenant by choice with the group, and that makes me pause…

…pause and recommit to living in community, and because of that commitment, I would have to work things out with whoever hurt me, or who ever I hurt.
So Ruth and Naomi arrive in the town Bethlehem and start to settle down in their new life together. Now this isn’t an easy life. As widows they are both at the bottom of the economic and social structure of their day. This is made even worse in the eyes of the community by Ruth being a foreigner. With no way to make a living or buy food Ruth decides to take advantage of  a community rule that lets people who are disadvantaged go “glean” the wheat fields after the farm hands have harvested. Some wheat always falls to the ground, and tradition dictated that this should be left for the people with no income to collect.

It was sort of the food bank system of the time. This idea of Gleaning was set up as part of Jewish law. It was an example of God’s Hesed, or commitment to taking care of all his people.

Like so many good ideas in the Old Testament (I’m thinking Jubilee), this wasn’t being lived out, or if it was being implemented it wasn’t being done in the spirit God intended. Here is where we meet the next character in our story, Mr. Boaz.

It would seem that in some less reputable fields that you might get accosted or beaten for trying to pick up the leftovers. A pretty lady might even be taken advantage of with the workers or owner saying to the lady “sure you can have some grain but you need to do something for me in return.” Not cool at all, and not at all what God intended as his Hesed to the underprivileged in society.

Well it turns out that Boaz wasn’t like this, there was a group of women that would glean from Boaz’s field and Ruth joins them to help provide for herself and her Mother-in-law. Now even though Boaz doesn’t take advantage of the ladies in his field he does seem to notice Ruth (perhaps he thinks she is kind of hot). He asks one of his works, “Who is that girl?” The worker looks out and sees the newbie among the group of women and say “Oh her, she’s Ruth, she came her with Naomi, you remember Naomi? Well Ruth asked if she could collect some grain with the other women and she has been here working hard all day.”

Boaz decides he should introduce himself to Ruth and heads over and says:

“I think it would be best for you not to pick up grain in anyone else’s field. Stay here with the women and follow along behind them, as they gather up what the men have cut. I have warned the men not to bother you, and whenever you are thirsty, you can drink from the water jars they have filled.”

Ruth is overwhelmed with Boaz’s generosity because she is a foreigner. She even gets invited over for lunch by Boaz. Ruth makes sure to save some food to bring back to Naomi, and Boaz tells Ruth that he admirers her commitment to her Mother-in-law. Ruth is feeling a little awkward at the compliment and plays it safe and excuses herself from lunch to get back to work. Boaz on the other hand secretly goes over to his men and instructs them to let Ruth glean even more wheat then she is entitled to. Ruth obviously brings in a very good haul. She then heads back home to Naomi and tells her all about her very successful day.

Naomi gets very excited and says:

“Where did you work today? Whose field was it? God bless the man who treated you so well!” Then Ruth told her that she had worked in the field of a man named Boaz.

“The Lord bless Boaz!” Naomi replied. “Hehas shown that he is still loyal to the living and to the dead. Boaz is a close relative, one of those who is supposed to look after us.”

Here is where I think we see another example of “Hesed,” living up to our social and community responsibilities in times of need. In biblical times it fell to the extended family to look out for interest of widows, but it would seem that this wasn’t always the way things would turn out. It would seem that there were other relatives that weren’t helping Naomi and Ruth out in their time of need. Naomi is very quick to praise Boaz for doing the right thing.

This reminds me a lot of some community verses in the book of Acts:

In the second chapter of Acts we read that,

“All the believers were together and had everything in common.They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need.

Shortly after this in Chapter 6 of Acts we find out that there was a racial divide taking place in this group that should be a Deep Community. The Greek speaking church comes to the leaders and says that only Jewish speaking Widows are being taken care of in the sharing of assets. The Apostles immediately appoint some people in the community to make sure that all Widows were being taken care of in this growing community. Everyone no matter where they came from was being adopted into this new family.

It would seem that Deep Community (or Hesed) is something that constantly needs to be guarded.

I thought we could end by break into groups to talk about a couple questions

  • How do we as The Commons take care of each other?
  • When we take care of each other, how do we do this more like a family and less like an organization?