Ruth’s loyalty and commitment offers a good model for our thinking about what it means to be part of the church. Ruth was ready to give up everything she knew in order to maintain her commitment to Naomi. We can’t know how different it was between living in Moab and living in Israel, but, for sure, she left behind her friends and family. She left behind the places she knew, the customs she knew, even the worship she knew. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live; your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Easy to say, not so easy to do. But Ruth was determined. Verse 18 – when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she said nothing more. Ruth wasn’t worried about the differences. Her concern was to respond to the call. What we need to be about as church is not doing what we want, but doing what God is calling us to do.
That can take us to some unexpected, and perhaps quite challenging, places. I ministered in Islington through most of the eighties and one of the interesting challenges that took quite a bit of time over a number of months was a variety of refugee crises, particularly a large influx of Kurdish refugees to Hackney and Islington at one point. It is interesting that some of the problems, and some of the crises, just keep on coming. I always remember the Sunday afternoon when I got a phone call asking if we could temporarily put up a group of Kurdish men in the church. Thank goodness that health and safety hadn’t got going quite as it has now in those days. Thank God for a congregation that lived with the wild and wonderful decisions of their minister. Because as the faithful arrived for Sunday evening worship, so did about thirty Kurdish men, some of whom were going to end up using our church premises as home for up to three months. Over the weeks that followed, I, and others, befriended these men and helped with the provision of food and clothes, despite the lack of a common language.
I remember one particular Sunday some weeks later. I had messed up big time in my preparation for Sunday morning worship. I had only realised about fifteen minutes before the service that it was scheduled as all-age worship and so jettisoned my carefully prepared sermon and was very much making it up as I went along. Shortly after the service began, one of my Kurdish friends, Halil, decided to come into the service. He entered the sanctuary and looked around to see where to sit. Well, it is always good to sit beside someone you know – and the person he knew best was me so, despite the fact that everyone else was, more or less facing one way – we were probably in something of a semi circle, rather than straight rows – and I was doing the opposite, sitting pretty well facing everybody else, he came and sat beside me and, despite the language barrier, proceeded to interrupt the time I was trying to use to think about what I was going to do next, by asking me various things about the service, mainly how to pronounce words that he didn’t understand but saw in the hymn book. But, despite all this going on, so far as the congregation was concerned, nobody gave any indication that it was anything other than perfectly normal for someone to come in and sit down beside the worship leader – and, fortunately, they didn’t know just how much I wished I was not having those distractions on that particular Sunday.
Being the church today is not easy. We live in a society that is overwhelmingly secular and the demands of our consumer culture are written large. It is often a case of being a stranger in a strange land, and that is not easy. Indeed it can be scary – but it can also be a great adventure. It’s challenging, but it’s possible.