Ruth, Others And I

CALL TO WORSHIP: Hear what the scriptures say: Make a joyful noise to the Lord; worship Him with gladness; for He made us and we are His. We will praise and thank Him and bless His holy name.

Almighty God, the psalmist tells us to come into Your presence with singing. We join together and sing as a congregation; but each of us in our homes today with different songs echoing inside.

Some of us are filled with songs of gladness; others have come with questions, their music discordant and unsettling. Some have a melody that is weak and intermittent, for they are weary.

Still others cannot sing for their hearts are breaking. Yet all may come, and be welcome before Your throne. By Your mercy, meet each person where they are. Speak Your word into our hearts and as we leave, may every person be blessed by Your holy presence in our homes and the homes of our loved ones. Amen

HYMN 1: ALL PEOPLE THAT ON EARTH DO DWELL-StF

PRAYER OF ADORATION:
Loving generous God, we praise Your holy name.

Gracious God, You are worthy of all the praise and worship that we can offer. All life depends upon You for its very existence. You made the world and all that is in it and You have put every system in place so that life may be sustained.

Loving generous God, we praise Your holy name.

More than this, You did not just make the world and then leave it and walk away. You remained interested in Your creation. You observed the plight of Your people in Egypt and crafted a way out for them, sending Your servant Moses to lead them to a place of safety.

Loving generous God, we praise Your holy name.

Even after that, when people turned away from You, You kept on loving them. You always planned to send Jesus, to live among us and show us what You are like. He lived a perfect life in obedience to Your word, and died on the cross for us.

Loving generous God, we praise Your holy name.

Because of what Jesus did, we can have peace with You.  Your love has been poured into our hearts through Your Holy Spirit, and we can live as happy, hopeful people.

Loving generous God, we praise Your holy name. Amen

TALK FOR ALL: I WILL FOLLOW YOU (Ruth 1:1-18)

This is a story about a family who travelled to a new country to find a place to live because food was scarce in their land – a mother, a father, and their two sons.

The father decided to take his family to a place called Moab where they would find more food. Perhaps some of you have moved to a new place and you understand how different everything seems at first. In Moab the people even worshipped a different god.

The two sons each married a Moabite woman and the Bible tells us they lived in Moab for ten years.

Then the father died and after that his two sons also died. The three women were left alone. This was a scary time for them because back then women did not work outside the home and they had no way to earn money.

The mother, Naomi, decided to go back to her homeland where she had lived before. She told her two daughters-in-law to stay with their families in Moab where they would be taken care of.

One daughter-in-law decided to stay in Moab, but the other, Ruth, said to Naomi, “… where you go, I will go and where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God” (1:16).

This was a brave thing for Ruth to do – to decide to follow Naomi. During those times travelling was difficult and Ruth was leaving everything that was familiar to her to follow Naomi.

Ruth showed great love for Naomi. We find out later that Ruth became a famous Biblical woman who gave birth to a son and this started the family of kings from which Jesus came.

HYMN 673: WILL YOU COME AN FOLLOW ME...-StF

PRAYER OF CONFESSION AND THANKSGIVING: The Lord gave Moses a message for the people: ‘Now therefore, if you obey my voice and keep my covenant, you shall be my treasured possession out of all the peoples.’ The people all answered as one: ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do.’

Let us pray.

Father God, it is so amazing that with a universe to care for, You continue to be interested in our lives. What is more, in Your gracious love, You have committed Yourself to us through the first covenant, made through Moses and again through a second covenant given to us through Jesus.

You offer Yourself to us again and again; but we confess with shame that we are not as generous. We take the good things that You give us, but hold ourselves back from You and others.

We find it easy to say, with the Israelites, ‘Everything that the Lord has spoken we will do;’ but we forget the promises that we have made, and disobey You when it suits us. Forgive us Lord for all the ways in which we fail to live up to our calling as Your people.

Hear the words of St Paul: ‘But God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us.’ We thank You, Lord, for that forgiveness offered to us through Jesus. Help us to accept it with glad and thankful hearts, and live in renewed obedience to Your word. Amen

READINGS: RUTH 1:1-19

HYMN 455: ALL MY HOPE ON GOD IS FOUNDED-StF

SERMON: RUTH, OTHERS AND I (RUTH 1:1-19)

Today’s focus reading is the opening of a short story from the Bible known as the Book of Ruth. In many editions of the Bible, this short story occupies no more than half a dozen pages. A simple story on the surface, the Book of Ruth reveals itself as a deep and delightful work of literature and an effective channel of God’s message.

Part of the power of this story is that it deals with ordinary people and the dilemmas and opportunities they face. There is drama and comedy in this story, but no spectacle, no voices from heaven. Where God is at work in the tale of Ruth is through the characters themselves, their actions and interactions. These characters are people like us, or people of the sort we can be. It is by this similarity that the story reveals the gracious in the midst of the ordinary.

This short story features three main characters: Naomi, Ruth, and Boaz. As Eugene Peterson puts it, each of these characters demonstrates a way of “getting into the story” that we know as the Book of Ruth. [Eugene H. Peterson, Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work (William B. Eerdmans, 1980, p. 98.] Thereby each character reminds us of a way that our own short story may possibly be linked with the grand drama of redemption.

We hear about Naomi in today’s reading. In the course of only a few verses, her world moves from difficult to hopeless. On top of political instability, the occurrence of a famine causes Naomi, her husband, and their two sons to move from Judah to Moab, where they live for an extended period. The husband dies. The two sons, now grown, marry Moabite girls. Then the two sons die. The line of descent has come to a crashing halt. The three women are impoverished, marginalized in a world that doesn’t know what to do with widows.

Naomi packs up and heads back home to Judah; she’s heard that the famine there is over. When she and her daughters-in-law reach a fork in the road, he urges them to go back to Moab and find new husbands. The two daughters-in-law resist leaving Naomi.

It’s here that she lets loose. Naomi gives voice to her broken heart. She starts to bellyache. What she does is complain. As Naomi sees it, she has nothing more to offer the other two women. Her sons are dead. Even if she became pregnant again, certainly her daughters-in-law would not wait a generation for a new pair of sons to reach manhood. It’s better that they go home to Moab. Naomi complains that God’s hand has turned against her, that the Almighty has slapped her in the face.

There are many instances of complaining in the Bible where people lament loud and long against God and their own circumstances. In the same way, there are times when each of us need to voice our complaints, to gripe, grouse, whine, bitch, and moreover, be heard and taken seriously, not only by God, but by at least one human listener.

Naomi not only complains to her daughters-in-law, she also complains when she returns to her home town and announces, “Don’t call me Sweetie”–the name Naomi means “pleasant” or “delightful”–“call me bitter, for that’s what I am.”

Naomi has grounds for complaint. She simply must give vent to her unhappiness. This is not only a psychological truth, it is a spiritual one as well. And if we are honest with ourselves, all of us have times like this.

What about the daughter-in-law who follows Naomi to Judah? Ruth asks for what she wants. This is something many of us have trouble doing, and a woman of Ruth’s culture and circumstances must have found it a special challenge. Yet Ruth, strong-willed Ruth, does this near the story’s dramatic climax, with some coaching from Naomi.

The two women realize that they have a chance to escape poverty and that Ruth can get a new husband. It all seems to depend on how Ruth decides to handle a particular encounter with a distant relative, a man named Boaz.

Naomi pictures Ruth in a relatively passive role on this occasion, but what Ruth actually does amounts to telling Boaz, “I want you to marry me.”

Ruth thus demonstrates that she is something more than the social roles that have fallen to her. She is not simply a foreigner, a widow, a day labourer. She has a will of her own, and is bold enough to step into a story that is new to her.

The third character is Boaz. From the very first, he is presented in a positive light, in Peterson’s words, “a person of good reputation and solid prosperity. . . . Everyone seems pleased to have him around.”

The way Boaz enters the story is that he doesn’t rest on his reputation, his prosperity; he takes up new responsibilities. In a time when many are concerned only to satisfy themselves, Boaz recognizes that he is connected with others and has obligations towards them. Ho goes past the mere letter of the law to pursue a more complete and creative justice. Boaz appears as someone who makes good things happen.

The Book of Ruth is a short story and something more. It reminds us that our own lives, our own short stories, find their true home in the great story which is the epic of God and his people.

It may be hard for us to imagine how we are to bridge the gap between the ordinariness of our lives and the grandeur of divine purpose. But Naomi and Ruth and Boaz give us, if not models to imitate slavishly, then certainly hints at how the connection sometimes takes place and the promise that the connection can take place even in lives like ours.

Important things can happen when we give voice to our complaints. When we dare to demonstrate initiative. When we do more than is expected of us. Important things can happen when we take a cue from Boaz or Ruth or Naomi.

The short story we call the Book of Ruth ends with a startling bit of genealogy. Ruth and Boaz have a baby named Obed, and Obed becomes grandfather to the great king David and an ancestor to our Lord Jesus Christ. The most celebrated Old Testament king as well as the messiah of Israel thus have among their ancestors a Moabite woman, of all people.

Don’t ever say that God can’t work through somebody, whatever that person’s gender, race, nationality, sexual orientation, or other label. Even Moabites, for crying out loud!

And don’t ever say that somebody’s short story–even your own–is necessarily disconnected from the grand epic of divine grace.

Realizing the connection may take doing something more than what’s expected of us, as Boaz did.

Or realizing the connection may require that we demonstrate unexpected initiative, as Ruth did.

Realizing the connection between our short story and the grand epic of grace may even depend on us complaining from the gut, as Naomi did.

Any of these actions, and many more, can open a space where God will act in our own place and time. Any of them can lead us to discover that, just as the text we call the Book of Ruth has its place among the pages of the Bible, so our short stories, the lives we live, are firmly enshrined in that greater sanctuary, which is the heart of the eternal God, the One whose story never ends.

HYMN 661: GIVE ME THE FAITH WHICH CAN REMOVE-StF

PRAYERS OF INTERCESSION:

We pray first for ministers, preachers and worship leaders. We thank You for their obedience to Your call. Show us how we can support them in their work, and by Your Holy Spirit, call more people to serve You in this way.

Lord of the harvest send more labourers into Your fields.

We pray for those who, in obedience to Your call have gone overseas to serve You in foreign lands. We remember those who, even now, are at missionary college, or preparing to leave and take up their first appointments. Protect them when they are in danger, and keep them faithful to their calling.

Lord of the harvest send more labourers into Your fields.

We pray for those who, whilst not in Christian occupations, seek to bring the presence of Christ into their workplace, their schools, or their spare time activities. Show them when to speak and when to be silent, and help them to be effective witnesses for You.

Lord of the harvest send more labourers into Your fields.

To each one Jesus says, ‘The harvest is plentiful, but the labourers are few.’ We are all called to be His witnesses. Let us spend a few moments thinking about our lives. Is Jesus calling us to any particular task, or to a new way of being faithful where we are?

Lord of the harvest send more labourers into Your fields. In Jesus name. Amen

The Lord’s Prayer

HYMN 566: TAKE MY LIFE AND LET IT BE-StF

BLESSINGS: Jesus said, ‘As you go, proclaim the good news, “The kingdom of God has come near.”’

As we start a new week, May our hearts, our minds and our lips Be full of the joy that comes from knowing Jesus as Lord and Saviour; and the Blessing of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, be upon us and remain with us always. Amen.