Voice of the Church September

Rev’d Denise Binks – Methodist Minister Bell Street United Church

Dear friends, I hope and pray that you are keeping safe and well during this time. As I write, the news headlines include the devastation in Beirut and the ongoing riots, the oil- spillage in Mauritius and the arrival of asylum seekers in the English Channel. The Covid-19 crisis shows no sign of abating and we are beginning to count the cost in so many different ways.

Long before the word ‘Covid-19’ had been spoken, the Methodist Church decided to take the Book of Ruth as its focal point for ‘Bible Month’. This small book, between Judges and Samuel begins after these words end the book of Judges ‘In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit’ (Judges 21: 25). Ruth is a story of suffering, hardship, bereave- ment, anxiety and even anger against God and there are some uneasy parallels with our current situation with lives across the world affected by the pandemic. We have found it both helpful and challenging in equal measure, and I encourage you to read it and allow the text to speak to you.

Here are a few thoughts:

The people of Israel believed that famine was sent as a punishment of God; although we do not believe that God sends suffering, we can believe that he does not shield us from it. We can learn so much when we discover God walking alongside us in times of difficulty. There is no ‘quick fix’ escape from suffering simply a knowledge that God walks with us.

Naomi and her family make an extraordinary decision; they decide to go and live in Moab; Jews listening to this story might gasp at their decision to move out from beneath the wings of the God of Abraham. It is not surprising, therefore that Naomi sees the tragedy that follows as punishment. Her husband and two sons die, and she sets out to return to Bethlehem with her two daughters-in-law. Her decision to release them from their obliga- tion to go with her, results in one of the most beautiful speeches and example of self- giving love that we find anywhere “do not urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. where you go, I will go, and where you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God, my God. Where you die, I will die, and there I will be buried. May the Lord deal with me, be it ever so severely, if even death separates you and me” (Ruth 1: 16-17). These words spoken by Ruth demonstrate an amazing, deep, self-giving love.

Ruth is willing to give up all hope of having a husband and children and instead stands by her mother-in-law in spite of the hardship that awaits her as an alien and widow living in a hostile land. One of the great messages of the book is to see how God is working ‘behind the scenes’, patiently waiting for Naomi to see it.

Ruth ‘just happens’ to find the field of Boaz, who ‘just happens’ to be a relative, who ‘just happens’ to have heard of Ruth’s devotion and self giving love to Naomi and responds with a caring, self-giving love towards them. He shows her dignity, by calling her his ‘daughter’, he protects her, provides for her in abundance. It is easy to miss just how generous he is to her, but what is certain is that those who worked with Boaz would be astounded by his actions.

When Naomi realised what had happened, ‘the penny dropped’ and her anger towards God turned to praise and thanksgiving “ Blessed be he by the Lord whose kindness has not forsaken the living and the dead”. There was more to come, but I won’t spoil the end of the story!

We can draw comfort from God’s promise to be with us ‘to the ends of the earth’ whilst at the same time be challenged to be like Boaz; to show love and dignity and over- whelming generosity to those who are desolate as part of our response to his love for us. May God bless you abundantly at this time.