Sunday, October 04, 2009

Wedding Sermon III

The Blessing of Boaz (Ruth 4:11-12)

11 Then the elders and all those at the gate said, "We are witnesses. May the LORD make the woman who is coming into your home like Rachel and Leah, who together built up the house of Israel. May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem.
12 Through the offspring the LORD gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah."

This is my 3rd wedding exhortation. My aim in the wedding exhortation is to explain the importance of every segment of the wedding ceremony. My first message was about the sanctity of vows which follows the exhortation. And my second message was about the importance of the affirmations that occurs before the exhortation. Today, I wish to touch on the Benediction that comes at the end of the ceremony. You can tell I’m running out of topics. The next two weddings exhortations will be about the bridal procession and the call to worship. So future wedding couples, you have been warned.

For today’s topic on blessings, I think it is a good idea to use a couple of verses from Ruth in line with the recent sermon series on Judges. The scripture chosen is the blessing from the community upon the marriage of Boaz and Ruth. Boaz and Ruth is one of the most romantic stories found in the Bible. The story may be almost 3 thousand years old but the storyline of a mature experienced man being nice to a young and innocent Gentile lady is something S and F can surely identify with. S is like Boaz, responsible and a man of standing; and F like Ruth is caring and hardworking. If you include the plot about the woman who washed and perfumed herself and put on her best clothes and went looking for her beloved man eating and drinking and in good spirits, it’s practically the same story! The only difference with the biblical classic I can think of is that on their first lunch date, Boaz asked Ruth to have some bread and to dip it in the wine vinegar. S would not have been so subtle, he would have asked F to just keep drinking the wine.

The two verses today are familiar to me because I actually wrote a sermon on it during my days in Trinity Theological College 8 years ago. I named it the Blessing of Boaz. This was written shortly after another writer wrote on the Prayer of Jabez. Since then the Prayer of Jabez went on to become an international bestseller, topping the New York Times bestseller list and selling 9 million copies. The Prayer of Jabez comes in audio and video formats. The publisher also authorized a wide array of official "Prayer of Jabez" merchandise including key chains, mugs, backpacks, Christmas ornaments, scented candles, mouse pads, and a framed artist's conception of Jabez himself. There is even a line of jewelry of Prayer of Jabez. The Blessing of Boaz meanwhile stayed unknown. The writer of the Blessing of Boaz sold one copy to himself and now lives a fruitful life pasturing a church on an island and occasionally gives wedding exhortations. You may think I’m envious and bitter, but after all these years of sleepless and frustrated nights thinking about it, I don’t think I am at all. I have identified the core reason for the disparate plight.

(kidding) I think the main difference is that the Prayer of Jabez emphasizes that you have to pray the exact same prayer word for word for 30 straight days for the prayer to take effect, and in my original Blessing of Boaz, I have nothing of that sort. S and F will be glad that I will now present the new and improved version of the Blessing guaranteed to work. So this is what you do with the Blessing of Boaz. Print out this blessing in Times New Romans font size 30 on a piece of red paper, and place it under your marital bed during the 30 weeks. With adequate offerings to the Church depending on your level of sincerity, this new and improved Blessing of Boaz is now results guaranteed. I will also give you my bank account number for easy money transfer just in case you need personal bonus reassurances. (/kidding)

Perhaps now the biggest question in your hearts is, what is the Blessing of Boaz? The blessing contains three wishes. The first concerns the bride, the second concerns the groom and the third concerns the “house”. “House” is a figure of speech meaning lineage or descendants, hence the focus is on the children. For the bride, the wish is that she will become like Rachel and Leah. Rachel and Leah (with help from their maidservants) are the mothers of the twelve tribes of Israel. Therefore, the implied wish is that the bride will be the mother from which a house of generations is to come. So F, you have a big spectrum of choices here. Like Rachel, you can have 2 children. Or you can scale all the way up to 7, like Leah with 6 sons and a daughter. But if you are really ambitious and follow all my instructions as listed earlier, then you can aim even higher. Who knows? Maybe generations later, this house will be known as the 12 tribes of S.

The second wish which is for the groom is a little tricky to understand. In NIV, the translation is “May you have standing in Ephrathah and be famous in Bethlehem”. In NRSV, the translation is “May you produce children in Ephrathah and bestow a name in Bethlehem”. The key to the seemingly difference in translation is the Hebrew word (חַיִל) [hayil] which could mean “strength” in physical or financial power. The word also occurs in the special sense of “potency or the ability to produce offspring”. But both concepts here are not mutually exclusive. In those days, in an agricultural society, the number of offspring is a show of strength in production capability. Similarly, the ideas of being famous and bestowing a name are related. In the ancient days, as it is with the Jews as well as the Chinese, the way to make and preserve a name is through posterity. Your name is kept in history because your descendents remember you. Moreover, I really like the word “standing” (显大) acting as a euphemism. So S, in receiving the Blessing of Boaz, may you have [hayil] standing and erect for yourself a name in this place.

The last wish is similar to the first wish. Just like the wish for the bride to become Rachel and Leah, the children of the wedding couple will become like Perez, the forefather of Boaz himself. In the world of the story, the townspeople’s blessing is presented as a traditional wish, something they might have said to any bride and groom. But when this story of Ruth is presented to the reader’s world, the blessing takes on a greater meaning. In “(Ru 4:18-22) 18 This, then, is the family line of Perez: Perez was the father of Hezron,
19 Hezron the father of Ram, Ram the father of Amminadab,
20 Amminadab the father of Nahshon, Nahshon the father of Salmon,
21 Salmon the father of Boaz, Boaz the father of Obed,
22 Obed the father of Jesse, and Jesse the father of David.”
So Perez isn’t just the forefather of Boaz. The reader also understands Perez as the forefather of King David. The wish is that Boaz’s house will become like Perez’s house which eventually leads to David. David, the one through whom God built his kingdom and worship and eventually his salvation through Jesus Christ.

Here is the point where I think the blessing is more than just a blessing for children. Embedded in this blessing are the stories of Rachel, Leah and Jacob who became Israel, the story of Perez, Tamah and Judah whose seed became David, and the story of Bethlehem most famous for Christmas. These stories, including the story of Boaz and Ruth lie within God’s unfolding plan, which throughout history is intertwined with humanity. S and F, in sharing the Blessing of Boaz with you, it is my wish that you understand yourselves not as an isolated couple, but a house in submission to be used as part of God’s plan. To the God of millenniums, our lifetime of decades may seem insignificant. Yet, the best blessing that God can give us is that we become a part of his will. We are blessed when we become a blessing. Like the names mentioned in the Blessing of Boaz, let your marriage and your family be a blessing for generations to come.

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