A warm welcome to another edition of Brooklands Digital Church.
The message is given by Katie Sandford, who has been on placement with us as part of her studies at Nazarene Theological College, Manchester.
The message can be listened to as audio using the LISTEN button above. An audio MP3 is also available via the SAVE button.
The Bible reading is taken from Ruth Chapter 1.
The service starts with a 15 minute countdown, where we share some news and announcements. Please use the scroll bar to skip straight through to the service/message if desired.
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We all experience fear and panic at times in our lives, and this is a good thing! It’s a very natural response to stressful events, or even danger – it keeps us safe! But recently, all of us have been in more stressful times. This is an abnormal situation that we may have never experienced before. But in it there’s a story that comes alive to me now more than ever – where we see people in situations similar to ours: isolation, fear, hopeless despair, loss, familial splits. It’s found in Ruth 1.
The conventional beginning of our reading introduces us, during a time of anarchy, to a man named Elimelech. You might think we would see Elimelech moving from Judah to Moab with his family during this time of famine. With bulk panic buying being displayed all over the news and Food Banks working harder than ever. It seems we can relate to this domestic scene almost immediately!
The death of Elimelech catches us off guard, and suddenly Naomi, his wife, becomes our main focus. Her children were left without a father and herself without a husband. Her sons married Orpah and Ruth. After they had lived there for ten years, her sons died. This is heavy stuff. We only get a minute to read these five verses, but we see ten years of her life, the good and bad. This story has a poignancy now, which it never had for me before – due to this pandemic.
Now we begin to see movement. After ten years of hardship for Naomi, we see the only direct intervention for human kind from God in this chapter. You might have expected that after over ten years of struggle for Naomi, that God would provide something in a miraculous, divine, BIG way… or at least some dialogue between God and Naomi. After all, aren’t we’re used to burning bushes – and Moses striking a rock with a staff for water to come out of it? But, no. She gets a whisper; small talk amongst people in Moab. The Lord has provided food in Judah.
So, Naomi, Orpah and Ruth pack up and start moving towards Judah. At some time along the way, Naomi reached panic station! Panic caused her to look at what she could provide for Ruth and Orpah. She felt she could not do it on her own, so she told her two daughters-in-law to turn back. Go home. She thanked them for their kindness and said the Lord will be with you and give you security – but he won’t while you’re with me.
In panic, Naomi did not accept their help and again told them to go home. She couldn’t understand why they would want to stay with her, she could only comprehend what she was unable to provide… a son for them to marry. And then she says something that makes my heart ache, “If I thought there was hope for me.” At the heart of it, her actions and words make plenty of sense if she has no hope. A lack
of hope gives us up to the elements, to the wind and rain, to every trouble that comes our way. We don’t feel in control and we panic.
Orpah leaves, but Ruth clings to Naomi and says “Don’t force me to leave you; don’t make me go home. Where you go, I go…” (Ruth 1:16-17). It is in this act that we see God’s provision which bring us comfort and peace. How often have we seen God using people to bless us? To feed us? Clothe us? Care for us? Ruth here is the hands of God and is God’s provision to Naomi.
They begin towards Bethlehem, but Naomi still believes the Lord has dealt harshly with her, that she has returned empty because she does not have male relatives. Even though Ruth has given herself to Naomi in covenantal love and devotion.
In times of isolation, it might be easy to feel as though people aren’t committed to us like that. What we do as a church is make ourselves accessible and useable by God for his purposes. We are showing up for you. If you’re at the beginning of your ten years of struggle or reaching the end, I’m here to tell you that we’re only at the end of the phone. You are loved, and you are cared for. Where you go, we will go. Your people are our people.
And the same God that created me, and died and rose again in death-defying victory for me, did the same for you too. God provided someone even better than Ruth for you and me. His name is Jesus Christ! His life, death, and resurrection are a cling to creation that says “Where you go, I go; and where you live, I’ll live. Your people are my people, I AM your God; where you die, there I’ll be, so help me Father—not even death itself is going to come between us!”
This hope given to us by the sacrifice made by Christ Jesus offers us peace in these uncertain times. And we hope to the future, thankful for what Christ has done. Read aloud with us, the words from 1 Corinthians 15:50-58, and then sing or reflect over the words of a tremendous hymn:
When peace like a river, attendeth my way,
When sorrows like sea billows roll
Whatever my lot, thou hast taught me to say
It is well, it is well, with my soul.
My sin, oh, the bliss of this glorious thought
My sin, not in part but the whole,
Is nailed to the cross, and I bear it no more,
Praise the Lord, praise the Lord, O my soul!