Welcome to the online service on Sunday 31st October 2021 for Reid Memorial and Craigmillar Park Churches and any friends who are joining us. Our reflection today focuses on Naomi and her daughter-in-law, Ruth where there is hope after the tragic events in their lives. As the story unfolds, we hear of the bigger picture that God has in mind for Ruth.
Call to Worship (Psalm 146: 1,2)Praise the Lord!
Praise the Lord, O my soul!
I will praise the Lord as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God all my life long.
Hymn CH4 124 Praise to the Lord the Almighty the King of Creation
Prayer of Approach:
Merciful God,We worship You,
with all of our heart,
with all of our mind
and with all of our strength.
Lord, we give you thanks today for so many things,
for the blessings we take for granted every day.
for the vitality and diversity of the natural world.
for the regularity and stability of the created world.
Reveal to us the richness of the Bible,
that each of us may recognise the messages
of the miracles and parables,
that we may find the inspiration
that meets our individual needs.
With our human hearts, we try to love You,
With our human minds, we try to understand You,
With our human strength, we try to serve You.
Forgive us when we forget your eternal presence with us
For failing to be aware of the beauty of the world around us
For our thoughtless words and attitudes
For our selfishness and prejudices
Train our hearts to be thankful,
so that we live daily with a sense of gratitude and humility.
And we rejoice to know that when our hearts falter,
Your heart forgives.
When our conscience misleads us
You teach us that we are loved
When our strength fails,
You draw near and hold us close.
Now we join our voices as one as we pray the words that Jesus taught us;
Our Father, who art in heaven,
hallowed be thy Name,
thy kingdom come,
thy will be done,
on earth as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
For thine is the kingdom,
and the power, and the glory,
for ever and ever. Amen
Ruth 1: 1-18
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there for about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons or her husband.
Naomi and Her Moabite Daughters-in-Law
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the Lord had had consideration for his people and given them food. So, she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the Lord deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The Lord grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.’ Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, ‘No, we will return with you to your people.’ But Naomi said, ‘Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the Lord has turned against me.’ Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
So she said, ‘See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.’ But Ruth said,
‘Do not press me to leave you
or to turn back from following you!
Where you go, I will go;
where you lodge, I will lodge;
your people shall be my people,
and your God my God.
Where you die, I will die—
there will I be buried.
May the Lord do thus and so to me,
and more as well,
if even death parts me from you!’
When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
The First Commandment
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, ‘Which commandment is the first of all?’ Jesus answered, ‘The first is, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.” The second is this, “You shall love your neighbour as yourself.” There is no other commandment greater than these.’ Then the scribe said to him, ‘You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that “he is one, and besides him there is no other”; and “to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength”, and “to love one’s neighbour as oneself”,—this is much more important than all whole burnt-offerings and sacrifices.’ When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ After that no one dared to ask him any question.
Hymn CH4 172 – “Sing for God’s Glory that covers the dawn of creation”
My sister and I both started out on the same career path in the laboratories in the Royal Infirmary of Edinburgh. Soon she met a handsome young man, married him, and moved away to Essex. Some years later, on a return visit to Edinburgh she came back to the laboratories. As she entered, she laughed and commented that nothing seemed to have changed and it all looked the same. Many things were the same, but they were superficial. The rooms, windows, flooring, and workbenches were all as they had been when she left. However, the important things as far as lab work was concerned had changed. The lab tests were much streamlined by computerisation. They were more efficient, safer, and cost effective. The staff were better trained and happy. It had been a challenging time for the staff to learn the new procedures and take on more training. The managers could see the bigger picture and how the changes would benefit both staff and patients. Of course, not every member of the staff welcomed the changes and there was some upset and bitterness. Ultimately, it was a successful transition.
In the readings, we hear of Naomi and Ruth and how their lives were changed. Naomi had been living with her husband and two sons in a Jewish community in Bethlehem surrounded with family and friends. The famine forced them to leave their home and go to a foreign country called Moab in search of prosperity. The Moabites were pagan and not held in high regard by the Jewish people. Naomi had left behind all that she knew and the support of likeminded people to live in a country full of heathens. Her sons married Moabite wives, Ruth and Orpah. But then her husband died and sometime later so too her sons.
Naomi had been in Moab for ten years and decided that it was now time to return to Bethlehem. Without her husband and sons, she had no way to support herself. She felt bitter about the way that her life has turned out and believed that God has forsaken her. She knew that the famine was over in Bethlehem so told her daughters in law of her intention. As they said their farewells, Naomi wanted Ruth and Orpah to find security, with new husbands among their own people. Orpah obeyed Naomi’s wishes but Ruth has other ideas. She could not and would not leave her beloved mother-in-law, so travelled to a country and people who were foreign to her in many ways. Ruth wishes to leave behind the pagan ways of the Moab people and saw her future in Bethlehem with the people of God saying “Your people shall be my people and your God my God.”
At the end of this chapter, we are told that Naomi and Ruth arrived at Bethlehem in time for the barley harvest. Due to their poverty, Ruth went to in the fields to pick up the dregs of the harvest, and she had the opportunity to meet Boaz, her future husband, and the great grandfather of King David. The timing of these events did not happen by accident. God had something in mind for Naomi and Ruth. Naomi may have concluded that God had forsaken her; but she was wrong. Boaz, a man with great leadership qualities, compliments Ruth for taking care of her mother-in-law. He demonstrates his commitment to Ruth by lifting her out of poverty and providing for her needs. There was an ancient custom, where the brother of the dead husband may have a child with the widow to ensure the continuation of the family name. Although Boaz is not the brother of Ruth’s dead husband, he was a relative and their firstborn child was permitted to carry on the family name. A strange custom and not acceptable in today’s society, I’m sure you’ll agree.
Of course, Naomi was not alive at the time that the Gospel according to Mark was written but it certainly has a lesson for her as well as us, as we hear in the second reading today. We are told that the greatest commandment is “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.”
Like Naomi we can become blinded by anger and despair when the road ahead seems difficult and uncertain. We cannot see the bigger picture and what God has planned for us. One thing is certain, He loves every one of us and we should obey the commandment to love Him. In loving Him our hearts will be calmed and our inner strength restored.
But we are not expected to face our worries and hardship alone. The second most important commandment is “to love one’s neighbour as oneself.” As Christians, it is an easier job to love one’s neighbour than to love oneself. We can be overly critical of ourselves and always striving to do better. We should not be too hard on ourselves when we stray from the path, rather, we should learn from it and acknowledge where we went wrong. If we love ourselves, warts and all, we can then be an example of how to love our neighbours, and those we meet in our daily lives.
God provides people who care for us and we for them. They can offer us strength and support often built from the support and strength that we offer them. God is present and at work on our behalf. We have hope that we can survive any difficulties and face the future together with those who know us and care for us.
We often take things for granted and need to take a step back to look at the bigger picture. As with the superficial view that my sister saw, all was not as it seemed. Can we read between the lines when someone needs our help or when a few words of encouragements are required? Equally can we give out a message to others when we are struggling?
Just ask God to open our eyes!
Hymn CH4 115 – “Love is the touch of intangible joy”
Prayer of Intercession:
We pray for those who,
like Naomi, Ruth and Orpah have no security,
for those who have no food
because of famine, poverty, unemployment and debt.
for those who have no home
because they were forced to flee from oppression,
for those who are alone and without support
because they have no network of family or friends,
for who have no resilience in today’s society
because of ill health, both physical and mental.
Grant them security and fairness Lord
and call us out of our comfort zone
to share what we have been given.
We pray for the wider world,
for the people of Sudan who are witnessing protests and unrest in its capital Khartoum,
may the political and military leaders find a peaceful settlement.
for the people of Afghanistan, suffering from acute and severe food shortages,
may a means of re-instating foreign aid may be found.
Give wisdom to those attending COP26.
Help the politicians, environmentalist and decision makers
find new and innovative ways
to protect the earth that you have entrusted into our keeping.
We remember those who are suffering
due to untreatable and terminal illness
or grieving the loss of a loved one.
When the grief and suffering are unbearable,
we ask for Your comfort.
When they blame You and cannot find the words to pray
may they know that Your love is unconditional
and others will be offering prayer for them.
We think of those whose world has been turned upside down by the pandemic,
grant that they would know the support and care of others,
the help they need and the strength to carry on.
And for us Lord, we pray,
help us be open and willing
to be part of the answer to these prayers.
Help us to use our hands to care,
our ears to listen,
our eyes to see,
and our voices to offer compassion.
And we offer these prayers through Jesus Christ, our Lord,
Hymn CH4 519 – “Love divine, all loves excelling”
As we embark on the week ahead,
help us to see the bigger picture,
with hope, peace and joy,
to live our lives caring for ourselves and others
to your honour and glory