Service 26 March 2023

Here’s my service from yesterday


Call to worship

Here in this place, there are no foreigners,
for all are welcome in God’s house.
Here in this worship, there is only acceptance,
for love is the language of faith.
Here in our lives, there are no divisions,
for God dwells in each of us.
Come, let us worship in unity and love.

The Lord’s Prayer

Our first hymn is There’s a Wideness is God’s Mercy

Quiz  – answers at the end

 1.    Town where Jesus was born
2.    _ _ _ _ _ Campbell, English supermodel
3.    Spiders of the genus Lactrodectus
4.    _ _ _ _ Wilson, Mrs Coulter in ‘His Dark Materials’ on TV.
5.    Sansevieria trifasciata – plant with long sharp edged leaves
6.    _ _ _ _ was my washpot – book by Stephen Fry
7.    Barclay James _ _ _ _ _ _ _, British rock band (1966-1998)
8.    ‘_ _ _ _ _ of Dreams’ – 1993 Kevin Costner film
9.    Travel company specialising in Caribbean all-inclusive holidays
10. Frost, Tennant, Bowie or Beckham for example

All the words that are the answers to this quiz are in the Biblical book of Ruth.

It’s one of the shortest books in the Bible – only 4 chapters. But still a bit too long to read in it’s entirety today so I’ll give you a potted version

Our story opens on a nice Jewish family with a problem. Famine has hit Bethlehem, which forces Elimelech and his wife, Naomi, to move east to the Kingdom of Moab with their two sons. There, they set up shop, eat some food, and live for about ten years. The sons marry two local girls, Ruth and Orpah, during this time. Life is good. Or so it seems.

One by one, Elimelech and his two sons die. This leaves Naomi, Ruth, and Orpah man-less and in need of help.

You know what they say – a woman without a man is like a fish without a bicycle.

Naomi decides to head back to Israel and her daughters-in-law pack their luggage and join her. Naomi begs the girls to stay behind and, while Orpah is convinced and goes back to Moab, Ruth pledges her devotion to Naomi, forsaking her god and her people to become part of Naomi’s life. Ruth’s stubbornness pays off and Naomi lets her tag along.

In Bethlehem, things are not good for the ladies. Naomi is feeling down and out and Ruth is reduced to gleaning in the barley fields. There, Ruth happens to run into a well-known rich man named Boaz, who instantly takes a liking to her. Boaz also happens to be a relative of Naomi’s late husband, which is very, very important, since Boaz would have an obligation to marry Ruth and provide for her as family.

When Naomi hears about Boaz she hatches a plan for Ruth to snag him as a husband. She tells her daughter-in-law to visit Boaz at night in secret and ‘lie at his feet’. Boaz is pleasantly surprised to see the cute girl from the fields is interested in him. He tells Ruth that he would love to marry her, but that there’s another relative with even closer ties to her in-laws. Boaz sets out to meet this chap and everyone is left to hold his or her breath while we wait to find out whom Ruth will end up with.

As it turns out, this random relative is interested in buying some land that Naomi has, but he’s much less interested in taking her daughter-in-law as his wife. So a deal is struck—the other guy renounces his claim on Ruth and Boaz is free to marry her. Wedding bells start ringing and everyone is happy.

Soon, Ruth and Boaz have a son, which makes Naomi happy. The women in town name the baby Obed and, surprise, surprise, he goes on to be the grandfather of King David.

So this foreigner, this immigrant, Ruth, ends up being the great grandma of the most famous of Israel’s  kings.

Here’s a lovely little hymn based on one of the best known parts of the Ruth Story. Here’s what it says in Chapter 1 verses 15 -17

Naomi said to her, “Ruth, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her god. Go back home with her.”

But Ruth answered, “Don’t ask me to leave you! Let me go with you. 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. Wherever you die, I will die, and that is where I will be buried. 

Here’s another Bible story, that also involves Bethlehem.

It’s from just after Jesus’ birth – when the Wise Men or Magi have visited.

Matthew 2:13-15

After they had left, an angel of the Lord appeared in a dream to Joseph and said, “Herod will be looking for the child in order to kill him. So get up, take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt, and stay there until I tell you to leave.”

Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and left during the night for Egypt, where he stayed until Herod died. 

Here’s another hymn to listen to based on that Bible passage.

Jesus entered Egypt fleeing Herod’s hand,

Living as an alien in a foreign land.

Far from home and country with his family,

was there room and welcome for this refugee?

Jesus was a migrant living as a guest

with the friends and strangers who could offer rest.

Do we hold wealth lightly so that we can share

shelter with the homeless, and abundant care?

Jesus crosses borders with the wand’ring poor,

searching for a refuge, for an open door.

Do our words and actions answer Jesus’ plea:

“Give the lowly welcome, and you welcome me”?

Time for you to do some work. Have a look at some Bible passages. What do you think the message is from these verses?

Leviticus 19:33-34

33 “Do not mistreat foreigners who are living in your land. 34 Treat them as you would an Israelite, and love them as you love yourselves. Remember that you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the Lord your God.

Leviticus 23:22

22 When you harvest your fields, do not cut the grain at the edges of the fields, and do not go back to cut the heads of grain that were left; leave them for poor people and foreigners. The Lord is your God.

Deuteronomy 10:17-19

17 The Lord your God is supreme over all gods and over all powers. He is great and mighty, and he is to be obeyed. He does not show partiality, and he does not accept bribes. 18 He makes sure that orphans and widows are treated fairly; he loves the foreigners who live with our people, and gives them food and clothes. 19 So then, show love for those foreigners, because you were once foreigners in Egypt.

Zechariah 7:9-10

“Long ago I gave these commands to my people: ‘You must see that justice is done, and must show kindness and mercy to one another. 10 Do not oppress widows, orphans, foreigners who live among you, or anyone else in need. And do not plan ways of harming one another.’

Matthew 25:31-40

31 “When the Son of Man comes as King and all the angels with him, he will sit on his royal throne, 32 and the people of all the nations will be gathered before him. Then he will divide them into two groups, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the righteous people at his right and the others at his left. 34 Then the King will say to the people on his right, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father! Come and possess the kingdom which has been prepared for you ever since the creation of the world. 35 I was hungry and you fed me, thirsty and you gave me a drink; I was a stranger and you received me in your homes, 36 naked and you clothed me; I was sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.’ 37 The righteous will then answer him, ‘When, Lord, did we ever see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we ever see you a stranger and welcome you in our homes, or naked and clothe you? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison, and visit you?’ 40 The King will reply, ‘I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!’

Do they have any relevance for one of the hot political topics in the UK at present?

I’m sure we all know about the growing numbers of people that cross the English Channel in small boats, putting themselves in great danger. I’m sure we would all want that to stop.

In response the Government have recently announced a policy which would mean everyone arriving by this method would be locked up and won’t be able to claim asylum irrespective of their circumstances. They’ll then be send to their home country or in some cases to Rwanda.

The minister in charge of this policy – the Minister for Immigration, is Robert Jenrick – Newark’s MP.

I want to read you a response to the recent asylum policy announcement by the Government.

It’s a statement on behalf of the Methodist Church in Britain, Baptists Together and the United Reformed Church

They say this:

We are appalled by the proposals in the government’s ‘Illegal Migration Bill’ to detain, punish and reject thousands of people seeking safety. They are completely incompatible with our Christian conviction that all human beings are made in the image of God, and are therefore inherently worthy of treatment which honours their dignity. Instead of dignity, these plans will foster discrimination and distrust, and cause immeasurable harm to people already made vulnerable by conflict and persecution. If ever there was a contemporary example of ignoring our neighbour and walking by on the other side, this is it.

When two in three people who cross the channel to seek sanctuary in the UK are granted asylum following rigorous checks, it seems unthinkable to reject them before they have even had a chance to have their claim for asylum heard. Many people fleeing war and persecution in countries such as Iraq, Iran, Syria, Eritrea and Sudan have been left with no safe and accessible routes to claim asylum in the UK, forcing people to make difficult and dangerous decisions. The UK falls far behind our global neighbours in welcoming people seeking sanctuary into our communities, and yet these plans essentially put a ban on claiming asylum and reject the UK’s responsibility to play our part in responding to global inequalities and conflict.

We all agree that we cannot continue to see thousands of people risk their lives to reach safety in the UK, but the solution cannot be deterrence and punishment. As Christians, we believe that we should be amongst the first to welcome the stranger with open arms. We urge the government to withdraw this legislation, to honour our moral and international obligations and to behave with compassion and fairness by establishing safe and accessible routes to enable the UK to play its part in welcoming people in need of safety.

I agree with that statement.

I think it’s important that we, as Christians, think carefully about these concerns and don’t fall for the idea that this Government policy is the only answer.

Naomi was a refugee when she left Bethlehem to go to Moab.

Jacob’s family were refugees when they left Israel at a time of famine to live in Egypt.

And Jesus himself was a refugee when his family fled from Herod into Egypt.

Our final hymn is When I needed a Neighbour

When I needed a neighbour
Were you there, were you there?
When I needed a neighbour, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
Were you there?

I was hungry and thirsty
Were you there, were you there?
I was hungry and thirsty, were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
Were you there?

When I needed a shelter
Were you there, were you there?
When I needed a shelter were you there?
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
Were you there?

Wherever you travel
I’ll be there, I’ll be there
Wherever you travel, I’ll be there
And the creed and the colour
And the name won’t matter
I’ll be there

The grace

The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ,

and the love of God,

and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit

be with us all now

and for evermore.


Quiz answers

Town where Jesus was born  Bethlehem
_ _ _ _ _ Campbell, English supermodel  Naomi
Spiders of the genus Lactrodectus  Widows
_ _ _ _ Wilson, Mrs Coulter in ‘His Dark Materials’ on TV.Ruth
Sansevieria trifasciata – plant with long sharp edged leavesMother-in-Law’s Tongue
_ _ _ _ was my washpot – book by Stephen FryMoab
Barclay James _ _ _ _ _ _ _, British rock band (1966-1998)Harvest
‘_ _ _ _ _ of Dreams’ – 1993 Kevin Costner filmField
Travel company specialising in Caribbean all-inclusive holidaysSandals
Frost, Tennant, Bowie or Beckham for exampleDavid

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