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.
Ruth’s story is one of the the most familiar of the stories in the Hebrew Scriptures, and one that has special significance for me, as my late mother read it at the blessing service for our Civil Partnership back in 2007. I think I probably first heard it while I was at primary school in the early 80s, when stories of people having to leave their homes seemed remote to me – or were perhaps untold – how unlike today when we see the war in Syria, Afghanistan and so many other places, driving people away from home and family.
In our reading today we hear Ruth’s moving words of commitment to Naomi: ‘your people shall be my people, and your God my God’; I’m almost tempted to suggest that when we next receive new members at St. Columba’s we should ask them to say these words! There is no caveat, no half-heartedness, just a simple commitment to Naomi, her people, and her God.
What would it take for us to inspire people to want to speak those words to us? I sometimes feel that some of us have more in common with Naomi, and allow ourselves to believe that people finding faith would be better off pursuing their Christian journey elsewhere rather than with in our churches with the imperfections we know so well.
Perhaps we need to start as Ruth does, with companionship – to go with the stranger, to invite the stranger to lodge with us, and to declare that their people are our people – and that we are all God’s people?
When we feel we have nothing to offer, when we see our disappointments rather than opportunities, when we feel that other people, and other churches, would offer more, give us confidence: that we can make a difference; that our gesture of welcome can begin a friendship; that our encouragement can unlock talents; that together we can build your Kingdom on earth. Amen