Church at Home Resources – 3rd of May, 2020

Thank you for joining me again today. Hopefully you will find the resources below helpful as you worship in your own home. There is a section for each of the three core elements in home worship: reading, praying and singing.

Today we begin a new series on the book of Ruth so before you watch my regular sermon video I thought the following video by The Bible Project might be helpful to you.

Read 

Good news! My sciatica has eased up enough for me to be able to sit up for the duration of a video. Thank you for your prayers, here is the first sermon video in our series on the Book of Ruth:

We’ve been spending a lot of time in the New Testament this year. Now, there’s nothing wrong with that at all, but I am aware that, for many people, the Old Testament can seem a lot more intimidating. The whole Bible points us to Jesus, but you have to look a bit harder for him in the Old Testament. The Old Testament’s also bigger, and it has some big books in it that can be tough to get through. It’s hard to relate to Leviticus when it’s describing all the laws concerning rituals that we don’t practice anymore and it’s hard to see the relevance for your life when you’re reading through the bits in Exodus that are giving precise instructions on how to build the tabernacle. Even if you’re Bible nerd like me and you love to study the Bible, it can be hard going sometimes. I want to show you that even though it’s older and even though it’s set long, long ago, in a culture very different to ours, the Old Testament is brilliant and relevant, with stories that speak to your life today. It is the word of God, it is living and powerful. 

So, today we begin a new series on the Book of Ruth. Ruth is a brilliant little book. You can read it all in about 20 minutes, it’s just four chapters, so I thought that for four weeks we could go through this book together. And read chapter 1 today. So please read with me, or listen carefully to Ruth, chapter 1. 

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. The man’s name was Elimelek, his wife’s name was Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Kilion. They were Ephrathites from Bethlehem, Judah. And they went to Moab and lived there. 

Now Elimelek, Naomi’s husband, died, and she was left with her two sons. They married Moabite women, one named Orpah and the other Ruth. After they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Kilion also died, and Naomi was left without her two sons and her husband. 

When Naomi heard in Moab that the Lord had come to the aid of his people by providing food for them, she and her daughters-in-law prepared to return home from there. With her two daughters-in-law she left the place where she had been living and set out on the road that would take them back to the land of Judah. 

Then Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, ‘Go back, each of you, to your mother’s home. May the Lord show you kindness, as you have shown kindness to your dead husbands and to me. May the Lord grant that each of you will find rest in the home of another husband.’ 

Then she kissed them goodbye and they wept aloud and said to her, ‘We will go back with you to your people.’ 

But Naomi said, ‘Return home, my daughters. Why would you come with me? Am I going to have any more sons, who could become your husbands? Return home, my daughters; I am too old to have another husband. Even if I thought there was still hope for me – even if I had a husband tonight and then gave birth to sons – would you wait until they grew up? Would you remain unmarried for them? No, my daughters. It is more bitter for me than for you, because the Lord’s hand has turned against me!’ 

At this they wept aloud again. Then Orpah kissed her mother-in-law goodbye, but Ruth clung to her. 

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ 

But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t 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.’ When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. 

So the two women went on until they came to Bethlehem. When they arrived in Bethlehem, the whole town was stirred because of them, and the women exclaimed, ‘Can this be Naomi?’ 

‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’ 

So Naomi returned from Moab accompanied by Ruth the Moabite, her daughter-in-law, arriving in Bethlehem as the barley harvest was beginning. 
(Ruth 1:1-22, NIV, Anglicised) 

The story of the Bible is huge. It’s quite literally the biggest story! It begins at “the beginning”, before creation, and it concludes with the renewal of creation and God’s people dwelling with him in joy for eternity (so in a way you could say it tells a story that never ends!). It’s full of huge events. The creation of the stars and planets, the creation of every creature. Angels and demons. Miraculous wonders. The sick healed instantly, the dead raised, seas parted! Wars and famines and floods! The phrase “biblical proportions” is never used to describe something small, or personal, or intimate. But, you know, this is your story too. You, the person listening to (or reading) this. You’re in this story. You’re part of it. 

In all these huge stories of battles and miraculous wonders it can seem like maybe the stuff of normal life isn’t important. Maybe you think you and your day-to-day life isn’t so significant to a God who deals in such biblical proportions. We can struggle to see how this huge story is also our story, the story of ordinary people living normal lives. 

But Christians believe in a God whose greatness does not make him distant. In fact, the opposite is true. God is great enough, and powerful enough to be attentive not only to each one of us and our lives, but to the tiniest details that we can’t even notice. It’s like the author of a book, he can spend as long as he wants thinking all about one character, one iine, one word. One tiny dot of punctuation can receive his focus. The Dutch theologian Abraham Kuyper famously said, “there is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'” There is nothing in your life which does not concern God. There is nothing so small or trivial that God doesn’t care about it. He is big enough to care about the tiniest little things. 

The first verse of Ruth gives us our historical setting. 

In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land. So a man from Bethlehem in Judah, together with his wife and two sons, went to live for a while in the country of Moab. 
(Ruth 1:1, NIV, Anglicised)  

The story of Ruth is set during the same time period as the book of Judges. A time of dark, epic tales of war, and here we have a little story. Here we are given a pastoral story of decency and love among ordinary people.  

What the Book of Judges shows us is the downward spiral of God’s people. The same pattern keeps repeating throughout the book: 

  1. There is peace for a bit while Israel serves God. 
  2. Israel falls into idolatry. 
  3. Israel is invaded and enslaved. 
  4. Israel cries out to God and He raises up a judge to rescue them from their oppressors. 
  5. Israel is delivered, peace is restored, back to step one. 

This keeps happening again and again until the point where you get to the end of the Book of Judges and the people of Israel are living in ways that are utterly sinful. The judges themselves, beyond serving the purpose of freeing the people from oppression, are not good leaders.  

During this time of faithlessness in Israel we have a story of the loyalty of Ruth, a Moabite. An outsider. During a time of great battles and epic adventure we have the story of the decency and kindness of a farmer, the loyalty of an outsider and the struggles and mourning of a widow.  

We meet Ruth and Naomi, her mother-in-law, at their lowest. Naomi and her family moved to Moab to weather out the famine in Israel. Her husband died. Her two sons died. She’s left widowed, away from home with her two daughters-in-law. She encourages her daughters-in-law Orpah and Ruth to go back to their families. They are still young enough to marry and have a life. Orpah leaves, with Naomi’s blessing. She’s perfectly entitled to leave; she has no obligation to stay. But Ruth will not be parted from Naomi. If Naomi is to endure hardship, then Ruth will endure it with her: 

‘Look,’ said Naomi, ‘your sister-in-law is going back to her people and her gods. Go back with her.’ 

 But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t 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.’ When Naomi realised that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped urging her. 
(Ruth 1:15-18, NIV, Anglicised) 

They return to Bethlehem, where Naomi came from, because she had heard that God had provided food there. Two widows in a small town in a society in which widows don’t really fare too well. Ruth is young enough to remarry and have a family, but she’s chosen to go to Israel where she’s an outsider. She’s from Moab, Israel’s ancient enemy. 

When she returns her old neighbours and friends and relatives remember Naomi, but she is hurting. Even the sound of her own name seems to taunt her. Naomi’s name means pleasant, lovely, sweet – but life has been too hard for her to stay sweet and cheerful. She’s bitter and she sees the irony in this: 

‘Don’t call me Naomi,’ she told them. ‘Call me Mara, because the Almighty has made my life very bitter. I went away full, but the Lord has brought me back empty. Why call me Naomi? The Lord has afflicted me; the Almighty has brought misfortune upon me.’ 
(Ruth 1:20-21, NIV, Anglicised) 

Naomi says God has afflicted her, she tells them to call her Mara, which means bitter. But God hasn’t abandoned Naomi, in fact the answer to her lamentation is found in that daughter-in-law, Ruth, who wouldn’t let go of her. She sticks with Naomi, because she’s found herself tied up with her and with her people and her God and out of faithful love, she won’t let go. Ruth has no obligation to stay with Naomi, but she loves her and is loyal to her. 

Although Naomi sees the hand of God in her suffering, she nevertheless still leans on him for her salvation. She goes to Bethlehem because she still believes in the mercy of God, she still believes that, even though he disciplines his people when they sin against him, he also provides and restores those who turn to him. She heard the God had provided food in Bethlehem and so she goes to receive from God. 

The answer to Naomi’s grief isn’t in some spectacular miraculous sign, but in her daughter-in-law, who won’t leave her side. This story shows us how that can be just as important and powerful. 

Ruth is a curious book. The characters discuss God and react to how they perceive God at work and they show themselves faithful to God and his law, but the “narrator” never tells us that God did something, neither does God speak. This is very much a story of ordinary life. There’s no massive supernatural events, no visitations or visions, just people getting on with life. And that’s what most of us experience too. I’ve never heard a booming voice from heaven. I’ve never (to my knowledge at least) been visited by an angel. I read the Bible, I pray, and I try to live the way God wants me to live and treat people with decency and love.  

God is indeed present in this story, but you must see him moving in the “just-so-happened” circumstances. Much like your own life probably. God is at work. Can you notice him? Ruth and Naomi just so happen to arrive back in time for the barley harvest. We’ll see how that plays out. Ruth just so happens to be a woman of such loyal and noble character that she will selflessly stick with Naomi instead of going back to her people. We’ll see how that plays out too. This is a dark chapter but there are already faint glimmers of light. 

We remember the spectacles, the parting of the Red Sea, the raising of the dead, but God works just as powerfully through love and loyalty. God is at work is at work in ordinary lives. God is even at work and in control in the dark times. Even on the darkest day, when Jesus died this was all part of God’s plan, part of his rescue mission. He was at work and in control rescuing his people as Jesus took our sin so that we could return to God. And if you come to Jesus he will not turn you away. 

This first chapter is a story of bitter and sweet. Naomi has experienced so much sorrow that she can’t even bear to be called her own sweet name anymore, she wants a name more fitting to the bitterness of her life. Ruth’s loyalty is exceptional, it’s remarkable, but in many ways this is still a story of the ordinary, there’s no miraculous signs here, no supernatural events, no seas parted, no angels visiting in this story. Just a woman and her loyalty and love. And we will see just how powerful that is. Through Ruth, God can bring sweetness back into the life of Naomi, and a story that begins with death and sorrow and bitterness will conclude with life and joy and sweetness again. 

Through this story God shows us that he works in the ordinary as well as the extraordinary. He shows us that there are no insignificant people and that each of us can be used by him and see him move in our lives. 

Many people spend so long looking for big spectacular miracles or waiting to hear God’s voice booming from the heavens that they fail to see all the ways God is working in and through the people and circumstances in their lives. Take a look at your life. What do you have to be thankful for? Where can you see God’s hand in the ordinary? Where are the glimmers of light in the darkness. Or perhaps you are feeling called to be that glimmer of light for someone else? Give thanks, pray for guidance and put your trust in God who is very much interested and involved in all of our ordinary lives whether we notice him or not. 

Join me next Sunday and we’ll read chapter 2 and see a few more “just-so-happened” circumstances and how God works in the ordinary. 

Pray 

Sovereign Lord, help us to see you in our daily life. Help us to trust that you are in control and help us to depend on you and your provision.  

We thank you for that example of faithful love that we see in Ruth, but Lord, we know that your love for us is the ultimate example. You will never let your people go from your love. We have been purchased by Christ’s blood shed for us on the cross. You loved us even before we loved you. You are working in our lives to redeem us and make us holy. We thank you Lord. 

Lord we pray for all of those who mourn this week. All of the homes that death has come to in the past few days. Be with them Lord, in the darkness and bring them light and comfort. 

We pray for our country as we look to the road out of this strange and anxious time. Protect us, Lord. Give us wisdom and help us to do things right. Give those in positions of leadership and authority wisdom. 

We pray for those who are sick, please heal them. We pray for those who work to care for and treat people, protect them and bless their work. 

We pray all these things in the name of Jesus, our Saviour and Lord. 
Amen. 

Sing

Here are some hymns about the faithfulness of God that I hope will help you to sing at home:

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