You stand at a table covered in Thanksgiving goodness. You’ve worked so hard to make this happen. Roasted turkey, spiral cut ham, a list of sides so rich and buttery and wonderful that no one would dare publish this meal's nutritional information. That would be a crime! The meal is ready. A prayer has been spoken. So what now? Well if you are one of the amazing parents who served at the Summit Students Thanksgiving dinners, you roll up your sleeves and serve. Why? That is a really good question!
This month in Summit Students we have been studying the book of Ruth. The series is called “Thanks”. I was teaching the first week in the series, so I started studying and writing. Somewhere along the way I realized I was writing a lesson about something I didn’t really understand. I was writing a talk called “Say Thanks” but I couldn’t really place my finger on what we are actually saying when we say thank you. I know it expresses gratitude and it checks off a box my mother gave me when I was a kid, but what is the real purpose. What am I actually saying when I say “thanks”?
Somewhere in the study of Ruth that week God let me in on a little secret. It was a secret woven into the tapestry of this tiny gem of a book. The book is packed with expressions of gratitude, both in word and action. Naomi expresses gratitude to Ruth for sticking with her. Ruth expresses gratitude to Boaz for his care, protection, and favor. Boaz expresses gratitude to Ruth for her commitment to a people not her own. And in the middle of this beautiful story it hit me. Every time someone expresses gratitude in the book of Ruth, they are actually saying something much more difficult than a thank you. They are actually expressing need. I needed you. I need you. I will need you. This was an epiphany for me.
I started thinking through every big and little time I have said thank you. And I realized it is true. At the root of each of these I am saying “I need you”. Without all of the thank you’s—big and small—to parents, and friends, and teachers, and my church, I would not be who I am today.
I read the book of Ruth a few times during this series. But even reading the story over and over again I almost missed a very subtle shift in wording near the end of the story. Throughout the narrative, Boaz, the wealthy landowner, is presented as the kinsman redeemer of Ruth and Naomi. With God’s help he was to be their rescue.
But at the very end of the narrative, that role is given to another. Boaz and Ruth are married and have a child. The community looks on the child and says “Praise be to the Lord, who this day has not left you without a guardian-redeemer. May he become famous throughout Israel! He will renew your life and sustain you in your old age. For your daughter-in-law, who loves you and who is better to you than seven sons, has given him birth.”
That shift reveals a deep truth. Naomi needed Ruth. Ruth and Boaz needed each other. They all needed God. And now they found that they needed this child? Yes! The little baby had a role to play in the story of redemption. It is a reminder that there is no height requirement or age limit in the Kingdom of God.
And that is why parents stood for hours Sunday at serving lines, why they mashed 40 pounds of potatoes, and why they looked students in the eyes and said “I am glad you are here”. They get that these students matter. That locking arms with students and children brings together the whole church.
As the night wrapped up, expressions of gratitude were exchanged—from student to parent and parent to student. Behind those words, even if they don’t fully understand it yet, they were telling each other something very true. They were saying “I need you”. Together they were saying “we need each other”. This is real community. This is God’s Church.