Uniting Church Sketty and Wesley Church Clydach ‘Worship from Home’ 9 August 2020
This ‘Worship from Home’ has been prepared by Rev Leslie Noon
Part 2 of Bible Month, looking at the Book of Ruth
As we settle now into the presence of God, we pray: Gracious God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, mindful, compassionate and constant, thank you for loving us through every season of our lives. May we know that you call us into a new day, that you call each of us by our name, that we belong to you. And gathered or scattered, you hold us together in love. Generous and merciful God, the only way to come to you each day is in truth, for you know us completely and love us as we are. Shine your gentle light on us so that we can know ourselves to be real, honest and forgiven. We pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.
Sing: When I needed a neighbour (StF 256)
Sing or pray or read these words or listen here:
We’re onto the second part of the story of Ruth. It’s a bit like watching a series on the television – we know what happened last week (Ruth decided to accompany her mother-in-law Naomi back to Bethlehem, so that she was now a stranger in a foreign land). We don’t know yet (unless of course you’ve read ahead) what will happen next week. So all we have is the text from today. And like any good TV series or TV soap, it’s clear that it’s becoming all about relationships (not sexual as yet, although that will come). But relationships between members of the clan and the strange outsider now in their midst.
These relationships take place in the particular context of the time. There may be much that is unfamiliar to us, after all, the ancient world and its customs are very different from ours today. However, if we are to allow the book of Ruth to function in a way that reveals to us something of God (which surely is the purpose of scripture), then we need to ask ourselves this question: ‘What types of people in our society face the same kinds of problems that Naomi and Ruth faced in the world they inhabited?’
Read Ruth 2: 1-7
In the first part of this chapter we are introduced to Boaz, who is to feature significantly. He is related in some way to Naomi’s husband and he seems to be a man of substance. At this stage, we almost have the beginnings of a Mills and Boon romance story, with the hero of the story ‘tall, dark, handsome and rich’! Ruth on the other hand is clearly described as the ‘Moabitess’, emphasising her foreignness, her status as an outsider. We are told that Ruth goes out to the fields to ‘glean’. Glean means ‘to pick up the leftover grain’. In other words, the leftovers.
What type of people in our society are left to pick up the leftovers? In June the Independent Newspaper reported that the coronavirus crisis has put an unprecedented strain on Britain’s food banks, with some food banks seeing a 175% increase in requests for emergency parcels.. But behind every statistic there is a person. Theo, a 47 year old Ugandan national has lived and worked in the UK for 20 years. She works for the NHS and lives with her two daughters aged 10 and 12. Her immigration status means that she has no recourse to public funds, so she has always had to work overtime in order to afford rent and food. But because of lockdown, she has been unable to work the extra hours because the friends and after school clubs which used to look after her children while she was at work are not longer able to do so. She says ‘I work so hard yet I can’t afford the basics’
Read Ruth 2: 8-16
In this next section, Boaz appears to offer Ruth kindness, protection and some sort of security. Perhaps he has realised for himself her vulnerable position. In the ancient world, travelling away from home, leaving the protection of friends and relatives was a risky business (as it is today). Travellers had to depend on hospitality customs in order to survive and in the Hebrew community of the time, foreigners were traditionally viewed with suspicion – and in particular Moabites were seen as ‘undesirable elements’. Ruth was undoubtedly entering a ‘hostile environment’.
What people have been victims of a ‘hostile environment’ in the UK? You may remember Theresa May in 2012 declaring “The aim is to create, here in Britain, a really hostile environment for immigrants”. One of the groups of people affected by this were the children of the Windrush generation – people who were invited here by the British Government to help with post war rebuilding. This is Paulette’s story. The 61 year old moved to the UK in 1968 when she was 10 and has never left. However because she had never applied for a British passport she was classified as an illegal immigrant and was sent to the immigration removal centre and then taken to Heathrow for deportation. Fortunately her MP intervened. Paulette is a former cook, who used to serve food to MPs in the House of Commons and has 34 years of national insurance contributions.
Read Ruth 2: 17-23
In this final part of the chapter, we read how Naomi asks God to bless Boaz for his kindness shown to Ruth, which, of course, she has also benefitted from. Perhaps the writer of this story is inviting us to see something of God’s providence at work. Was Boaz being used as an instrument of God? What is the relationship between divine plans and human actions? To what extent does the working out of God’s plans depend on the willingness of humans to be ‘God’s hands?
How can we, like Boaz, be instruments of God? Just last week I received this message from Nigel Williams, the Swansea Night Shelter Manager. He had received this text from Steven, one of the night shelter guests. Those of us who volunteered in the night shelter in Sketty remember him. He texted. “Hey I would just love to take this time to thank each and every single volunteer at Swansea Night Shelter for everything they have helped in regards to myself and my brother Carl. We are incredibly grateful for everything you’ve all done. We moved into our shared house in Mount Pleasant but the day after was lockdown so I wasn’t able to thank you. I wouldn’t be happy in my new place if it wasn’t for all the volunteers. A big massive thank you on behalf of me Steve and my brother Carl.”
Read Matthew 25: 34-40
Jesus summed up all these thoughts in this parable.
To Ponder and Pray (followed by the Lord’s Prayer)
As we reflect on journey and struggle let us ponder and pray: What is the Spirit saying to us about our attitude to the poor in our midst, especially given the debate that some are seemingly ‘undeserving’? We pray
- for those who are dependent on food banks, asking ourselves how scary it must be to wonder how you will feed your children.
- What is the Spirit saying to us about the immigration debate, when this story suggests that refugees, immigrants, asylum seekers might someday become the instrument of our redemption (don’t forget that Ruth was an ancestor of Jesus). We pray for all those who have suffered and continue to suffer from our hostile regime and community.
- What is the Spirit saying to us about how we are to be God’s hands in the world? Let us pray that we might be unafraid to do God’s will, to be God’s hands and feet, to be on the side of the poor and marginalised, just as Jesus was.
Sent by the Lord am I, my hands are ready now, to make the world a place in which the Kingdom comes. Amen.