Friday, November 30, 2012

December 2012

Sun. 2nd (Advent 1):
Holy Communion at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m. with coffee hour between the services.
Sun. 2nd 7:00 p.m. Christmas Variety Concert and Pageant (see below).
Thurs. 6th: 7 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Study groups (Bogani Café).
Thu. 6th 11.30 a.m. ‘The Lunch Bunch’ at the church (see below).
Thu. 6th 2 p.m. Women’s Bible Study at Marg Rys’ home (3404-114 St.)
Fri. 7th: 3.30 p.m.: Corporation Meeting
Sun. 9th (Advent 2): Holy Communion at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m.
Thurs. 13th: 7 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Study groups (Bogani Café).
Thurs. 13th: 2 p.m. Women’s Bible Study at Marg Rys’ home (3404-114 St.)
Sun. 16th (Advent 3): Holy Communion at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m.
Tue. 18th: 11:15 a.m. Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s Hospital.
Wed. 19th: Vestry Meeting (church).
Thurs. 20th: 7 a.m. Men’s and Women’s Bible Study groups (Bogani Café).
Sun. 23rd (Advent 4): Holy Communion at 9.00 a.m. Carol Service and Bring a Friend Sunday at 10.30 a.m. (see below).
Mon. 24th (Christmas Eve): Family Holy Communion at 4.00 p.m., Holy Communion by Candlelight at 9.30 p.m. (see below).
Tue. 25th (Christmas Day): Holy Communion at 10.00 a.m.
Wed. 26th and Thu. 27th: Church Office closed.
Sun. 30th (Christmas 1): Holy Communion at 9.00 and 10.30 a.m.

·      Tim Chesterton’s days off are every Monday, and two Saturdays per month.
·      Jennifer ffolliott-Oujla works Tuesday to Friday, 9 a.m. – noon. Jen does not work Sundays, so please do not ask her to!

Sunday Dec. 2nd: Christmas Concert at 7.00 p.m. A Christmas Variety Concert will be followed by our traditional Christmas tableau, all under the capable leadership of Eva Thompson. Tickets are now on sale, priced $10 each or $25 per family. All proceeds will go toward our World Vision project this year, which is an appeal to help the victims of famine in the Horn of Africa.

Sunday Dec. 23rd: ‘Service of Lessons and Carols and Bring-a-Friend’ at the 10.30 service. The Scripture readings tell the story of Christmas, starting from the Old Testament prophecies and then continuing with the Gospel stories of Jesus’ birth. In between these readings we sing carols – plenty of them! – so, if you like the carols of Christmas, this is the service for you. Some of the carols will be sung by everyone, some will be special performances by members of our congregation.

Many Christmas carols are familiar and enjoyable to people who are not churchgoers, and a service which does not include communion can be easier for them to participate in as well. This is a ‘bring-a-friend’ service, so please invite friends or family members who do not normally go to church; the service will be structured with them in mind.

Stewardship Pledge Forms. Have you returned your stewardship pledge forms for 2013? Please note that this is a vital year for us to know how much we can expect to receive from our members, as we have to make decisions about the viability of our building project. Whether you feel you can give a little or a lot, please let us know as soon as possible how much you hope to give in 2013, so that we can plan accordingly.

For a number of years now we have noticed a change in the pattern of our Christmas services. The Carol Service on the Sunday before Christmas is growing and has become the biggest service of the Christmas season for us. Our Christmas Day service is also slowly growing. Christmas Eve, however, has been slowly shrinking for several years. In order to address this we are going to try a different pattern for Christmas Eve services this year:
·      Mon. Dec. 24th (Christmas Eve): 4.00 p.m. Informal Holy Communion for Families. The first part of the service (readings, sermon, prayers of the people) will be simplified and adapted and will include special activities for children. We hope that our families with pre-school children will find this a good service to attend.
·      Mon. Dec. 24th (Christmas Eve): 9.30 p.m. Holy Communion by Candlelight. This service will replace our traditional 11.00 p.m. ‘Midnight Service’.
·      Tue. Dec. 25th 10.00 a.m. Holy Communion for Christmas Day.

Coming in January: ‘Sundays at 4’. This is a new service at St. Margaret’s; it will be about 60 minutes long and will be followed by a light soup and sandwich supper. It will follow the basic outline of our Anglican liturgy but will be less formal and very family-oriented, and will experiment with creative ways of exploring Christian teaching for adults and for children.

Note: we’re currently looking for volunteers to help with this service, especially Sunday School teachers and musicians. We’re also looking or folks to be the ‘seed’ of this new service and to invite new people to come and try us out. Talk to Tim if you’d like to join the team!

Sunday January 13th: ICPM Lunch at the Bissell Centre
Once again our congregation will be helping prepare and service lunch for the congregation that attends Sunday services with the Inner City Pastoral Ministry at the Bissell Centre. We will be looking for volunteers to help prepare sandwiches beforehand, and then to go down to the Bissell Centre on Sunday to serve the lunch. Look for signup sheets on the table in the foyer, or contact Maggie Woytkiw to offer to help (Jen at the church office can give you Maggie’s contact information). Note that financial donations are also needed.

Lent Course 2013: ‘The Story the Bible Tells’
Many Christians are familiar with individual stories of the Bible, but don’t quite know where to ‘hang’ them on the big ‘Story the Bible Tells’. This course is designed to give you an overview of the sweep of biblical history from Genesis to Revelation, and will also focus in on some individual stories within that big story.

The course will be held on the Thursdays of Lent; however it will not start on the first Thursday as this is Valentine’s Day! The dates and themes are as follows:
·      Thursday Feb. 21st: ‘From Abraham to Joshua’.
·      Thursday Feb. 28th: ‘From Joshua to the Exile’
·      Thursday Mar. 7th: ‘From the Exile to John the Baptist’
·      Thursday Mar. 14th: ‘The New Testament Story’
·      Thursday Mar. 21st: ‘Reading the Bible Today’.
Watch for signup sheets for this course in late January!

Vital Church Planting Conference 2013: ‘Being Disciples’ (Feb. 5th-7th at the Matrix Hotel, Edmonton).
Discipleship is what Jesus calls us to do: to be disciples, and to make new disciples. Vital Church Planting Conference 2013 is all about discipleship. Bishop Graham Cray ‘Being Culturally Relevant’ and other interesting speakers will offer talks and workshops on Being Disciples and Making Disciples.

Visit for information and registration.

Have a Blessed Christmas!

Friday, November 23, 2012

December 2012

Coffee between services
Greeter/Sidespeople:  The Aasens
Counter:  C. Aasen/T. Cromarty                                   
Reader:  S. Jayakaran                                                 
(Jeremiah 33: 14- 16, Psalm 25: 1-9, 1Thessalonians 3: 9-13)
Lay Administrants:  D. Schindel/M. Rys                        
Intercessor:            D. MacNeill                                               
Lay Reader:  B. Popp   (Luke 21: 25 – 36)
Altar Guild (Purple): M. Woytkiw/K. Hughes
Prayer Team:  M. Chesterton/ E. Gerber                          
Sunday School (School Age):              N. Muwanguzi           
Sunday School (Preschool):            M. Eriksen
 9:45 am Kitchen: The Woytkiws
Music: W. Pyra
Altar Servers:  E. Jayakaran
December 9th, 2012   Advent 2   
Greeter/Sidespeople:            The Popps                        
Counter:  B. Popp/L. Schindel                                   
Reader: G. Hughes                                   
(Malachi 3: 1-4, Canticle 19, Philippians 1: 3-11)
Lay Administrants: C. Aasen/D. MacNeill                                               
Intercessor:  C. Ripley                                   
Lay Reader:  L. Thompson  (Luke 3: 1 – 6)
Altar Guild (Purple):  M. Lobreau/L. Schindel                           
Prayer Team:            K. Hughes/ M. Rys                                   
Sunday School (School Age):              J. McDonald           
Sunday School (Preschool):            E. McDougall
Kitchen:  K. Goddard
Music:  E. Thompson
Altar Servers:  A. Jayakaran
December 16th, 2012    Advent 3
Greeter/Sidespeople:            The Schindels           
Counter:  D. Schindel/            D. Sanderson                       
Reader:  M. Rys                                   
(Zephaniah 3: 14-20, Canticle 3, Philippians 4: 4-7)
Lay Administrants:  E. Gerber/G. Hughes                                        
Intercessor:  C. Aasen                       
Lay Reader:  D. MacNeill  (Luke 3: 7 – 18)
Altar Guild (Purple): J. Mill/P. Major
Prayer Team:  L. Sanderson/S. Jayakaran                           
Sunday School (School Age):            M. Cromarty
Sunday School (Preschool):            S. Doyle
Kitchen:  E. McFall
Music:  M. Eriksen                                       
Altar Servers:  E. Jayakaran
December 23rd, 2012   Advent 4 (Carol Service)
Greeter/Sidespeople:            The Hughes                       
Counter: G. Hughes/            M. Eriksen                       
Reader:  C. Aasen                                                           
(Micah 5: 2-5a, Canticle 18, Hebrews 10: 5-10)
Intercessor:            T. Chesterton                       
Lay Reader:              B. Popp            (Luke 1: 39 – 55)
Altar Guild (Purple): M. Woytkiw/Carol Svc.
Sunday School (School Age):            M. Aasen           
Sunday School (Preschool):            A. Verrill
Kitchen:  B. Cavey
Music:            M. Chesterton           
Greeter/Sidespeople:            T. Willacy/ J. Durance           
Counter:  J. Durance/            L. Kalis                       
Reader:  T. Cromarty                                               
(1 Samuel 2: 18-20, 26, Psalm 148, Colossians 3: 12-17)
Lay Administrants: M. Rys           
Intercessor:  B. Popp                                   
Lay Reader:  D. MacNeill  (Luke 2: 41 – 52)
Altar Guild (White):  M. Lobreau/ L. Pyra
Prayer Team:  L. Sanderson/E. Gerber                                               
Kitchen:  W. Mogg                                    
Music:  R. Mogg
Altar Servers:  A. Jayakaran

Monday, November 19, 2012

Sermon for November 18th - St. Margaret

St. Margaret of Scotland                                                                                

In the church year, Friday was the feast day of St. Margaret of Scotland, the patron saint of this church; she died on November 16th 1093, nine hundred and nineteen years ago. As I think about the story of her life I’m reminded of these words of Jesus:
You know that among the Gentiles those whom they recognise as their rulers lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them. But it is not so among you; but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be slave of all. For the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many (Mark 10:42-45).
These words could be a description of the life of our patron saint; she was a member of the aristocracy and came into a position of great influence as Queen of Scotland, but she didn’t think she’d been given that position in order to lord it over others. Instead, she’s remembered as a person who spent her life serving others. Let me tell you her story.

Margaret was the granddaughter of the English king Edmund Ironside, but because of dynastic disputes she was born in Hungary, in the year 1047. She had one brother, Edgar, and a sister, Christian, and many people in England saw her brother Edgar as the rightful heir to the throne of England. In 1054 the Witan, the parliament of Anglo-Saxon England, decided to bring the family back from Hungary so that they could inherit the throne when King Edward the Confessor died, as Edward had no children. So Edgar, Christian and Margaret were brought up at the Anglo-Saxon court under the supervision of Benedictine monks and nuns, who trained the young people according to the Benedictine ideal of a balanced life of work and prayer. In the case of the girls, the training paid off: Christian became a nun, and Margaret became probably the most devout queen Scotland had ever seen. We know that Margaret learned to read the scriptures in Latin, and she also knew the teachings of the church fathers from the early Christian centuries.

Margaret might have met her future husband, Malcolm of Scotland, at this time; his father was the king Duncan who was murdered by Macbeth, and for some years he was sent to live at the court of the English king for his own safety.

Edward the Confessor died, and soon afterwards William the Conqueror invaded England in 1066. Edgar and his sisters were advised to go back to Hungary for their own safety, but on the way their ship was blown far off course by a fierce gale. They spent some time in northern England and then sailed up the coast to the Firth of Forth in Scotland, where King Malcolm gave them a warm welcome to his kingdom. His court at Dunfermline was undoubtedly rather primitive compared to the English court that the family had known, but I’m sure they were glad of his welcome and the hospitality and safety he offered them.

Margaret was now about twenty years old; King Malcolm was forty, and unmarried, and the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle tells us ‘he soon began to yearn for Edgar’s sister as his wife’. However, Margaret took a lot of persuading; she was more inclined to become a nun, and Malcolm had a stormy temperament, despite his other virtues. It was only after long consideration that Margaret agreed to marry him, and their wedding took place in the year 1070, when Margaret was twenty-three. In the end, although she was so much younger than him, she was the one who changed him; the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle says that ‘her customs pleased (Malcolm) and he thanked God who had by his power given him such a consort; and wisely bethought him since he was very prudent and turned himself to God’.

Although Margaret was now in a great position, and very wealthy according to the standard of the day, she saw herself merely as the steward of riches. She lived in the spirit of inward poverty, looking on nothing as belonging to her, but recognizing that everything she possessed was to be used for the purposes of God. As Queen, she continued to live the ordered life of prayer and work that she had learned from the Benedictine monks. Her friend Lanfranc, who became the Archbishop of Canterbury, was busy at this time reforming the Church in England, and under his guidance Margaret carried out similar reforms in the Church in Scotland. She was only the wife of the king, but she came to have the leading voice in the changes that affected both the social and the spiritual life of Scotland. She had this influence because of the depth of her husband’s love for her. Malcolm didn’t share his wife’s contemplative temperament, but he was strongly influenced by her godly character, so he tended to follow her advice a lot – not only for his own life, but also for the life of the church and people in Scotland.

It’s actually quite remarkable that the Scots accepted the reforms that this foreign queen proposed, but she herself lived such a simple and attractive life that they seemed to feel instinctively that her way must be a good way. Let’s think about the sort of life she lived as Queen of Scotland.

Margaret would begin each day with a prolonged time of prayer and the saying of the psalms. We’re told that after this, nine little orphans would be brought to her, and she would prepare their food herself and serve it to them with her own spoon, doing this for the sake of Christ, as one of his servants. It also became the custom at Dunfermline that any destitute poor people would come every morning to the royal hall; when they were seated around it, then the King and Queen entered, and we’re told that they then ‘served Christ in the person of his poor’. Before they did this, they sent out of the room all other spectators except for the chaplains and a few attendants; they didn’t want to turn it into what modern politicians would refer to as ‘a photo opportunity’.

The church in Scotland at that time looked more to the old Celtic way of Christianity than to the way of Rome. Margaret had been raised in the way of Rome, and was keen to bring Scotland into unity with the rest of the world, but she didn’t do it in an overbearing and proselytizing way. We’re told that she often visited the Celtic hermits in their lonely cells, offered them gifts, and cared for their churches. But she also held many conferences with the leaders of the Church, putting forward the Roman point of view about things like the date of Lent and the proper customs for celebrating the liturgy and so on. She convinced them, not because of the strength of her argument so much as by the power of her holy life.

In those days many people in Scotland used to go on pilgrimages to see the relics of St. Andrew at the place now called ‘St. Andrew’s’. Margaret’s chaplain, Turgot, who wrote her biography, says,
Since the Church at St. Andrews was much frequented by the devout who flocked to it from all quarters, she erected dwellings on either shore of the sea which divides Lothian from Scotland, so that the poor people and pilgrims might shelter there and rest after the fatigues of their journey . . . Moreover she provided ships for the transport of these pilgrims both coming and going, nor was it lawful to demand any fee for the passage from those who were crossing.
The cluster of houses on either side of the Forth Bridge still bear her name, North and South Queensferry.

Most people recognized as saints by the Catholic church were monks and nuns who lived lives of celibacy, far removed from the demands of the world and the pressures of family life. Margaret, however, is remembered as having a happy family life. She had eight children, six sons and two daughters; interestingly, she seems to have given them all good Anglo-Saxon names! Her oldest son Edward was killed in battle, Ethelred died young, and we’re told that Edmund didn’t turn out too well. But the three youngest, Edgar, Alexander, and David, are remembered among the best kings Scotland ever had. David I, the youngest son, had a peaceful reign of twenty-nine years in which he developed and extended the work his mother had begun. The two daughters, Matilda and Mary, were both brought up under the guidance of Margaret’s sister Christian in the Abbey of Romsey, and both went on to marry into the English royal family. All of them we’re told, were also taught to follow Christ first – although I find it a little reassuring that even a saintly parent like Margaret didn’t have a 100% success rate with her kids!

Margaret was not yet fifty when she died; some people say that she had worn her body out with excessive fasting and long hours of prayer in cold churches. As she lay dying, her son Edgar brought her the sad news that her husband and her oldest son had been killed in battle. Despite this grief, we’re told that her last words were of praise and thanksgiving to God, and her death was calm and tranquil.

As I reflect on the life of Margaret, I think that in many ways she embodies the ideals that we’re striving to follow in this church. Margaret found herself in a position of great power and wealth, but she didn’t consider it as having been given to her for her own selfish pleasures. She was a true Benedictine, living in the spirit of inward poverty. She saw her wealth and power as having been entrusted to her to do good, and she gave her life to serving others in the spirit of Christ. What might we learn from her today?

I think the first thing we need to learn from her is her balance of work and prayer. The Benedictine ideal was an ordered life, with certain times of day set apart for prayer, and others spent in active work for the good of others. Many of us at St. Margaret’s are quite busy with this active work for the good of others. We work hard at our jobs, and we also work together to do good in the world. But how good are we at keeping the balance between prayer and work? We’re told in the gospels that Jesus kept that balance well. In Mark chapter one we read that he was healing the sick, casting out evil spirits, and teaching the people all day long, but then Mark goes on to tell us that ‘In the morning, while it was still very dark, he got up and went out to a deserted place, and there he prayed’ (Mark 1:35). Luke tells us that this was Jesus’ habit: ‘But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray’ (Luke 5:16).

Is that your habit? Do you make time to pray regularly, by yourself or with someone else? For some people, the ‘deserted place’ might be a room in their house; for other people it might a quiet office early in the morning; for others, it might be a quiet walk at some point during the day. For some it will be alone, for others it will be together with a spouse, or with the family as a whole. Those of us who care for young children will find some challenges here, and will need to support each other and think carefully about the best way to build prayer into our daily lives. Yes, it will take a bit of effort, but the lives of praying people down through the centuries have shown us that it’s well worth it.

So we can learn from her balance of work and prayer. We can also learn from the way she was successful in her reforms because of the influence of her godly life. Even people who disagreed with her were impressed with the way she lived out her faith, despite the fact that she didn’t make a big song and dance about it. We’ve just lived through the nastiness of an American election. In modern elections, it seems as if people gleefully seek out all sorts of dirt about the politicians they disagree with, and they then spread it around as a way of discrediting the policies their opponents are advocating. But every now and again you find someone who we refer to as a ‘Teflon person’ – the dirt won’t stick to them! Margaret was that sort of person; people respected her because they saw Christ in her way of life.

What if Anglicans who disagree with each other on the issue of homosexuality were known in the world for the gracious and Christlike way they spoke to each other about their disagreements? What if conservative Christians who campaign against abortion were also known for their willingness to take unwanted children into their own homes? What if liberal Christians who campaign for government programs to help the poor were also known for their own extravagant generosity to the poor? What if even people who disagreed with us could see the face of Christ in our way of life?

The third thing we can learn from Margaret is the way she lived out what is sometimes called ‘the ministry of the basin and the towel’. This phrase refers to the story of the last supper, where Jesus ‘got up from the table, took off his outer robe, and tied a towel around himself. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and wipe them with the towel that was tied around him’ (John 13:4-5). After he finished this job, he pointed out to his disciples that he, their teacher and master, saw no contradiction between being their lord and being their servant. ‘If I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet’ (John 13:14).

This is the sort of life Margaret lived. Although she was the Queen of Scotland, she saw no contradiction between being the Queen and serving at tables for the poorest of the poor. She understood herself first of all as a servant of Christ; everything else followed from that.

So we remember with thanksgiving today our patron saint, Margaret, a woman of prayer, a woman who lived a holy life, a woman who served the poor, a woman who used her influence in a Christlike way to do good for all people.  As a congregation, let us pray that God will give us the strength by his Holy Spirit to live up to the name we bear. Amen.

Friday, November 16, 2012

November 19 - 25th, 2012

Weekly Calendar

November 19th, 2012  Office is closed.
November 20th, 2012
11:15 am  Holy Communion at St. Joseph’s Hospital
7:30 pm  ‘Unconditional’ Book study at St. Margaret’s.
November 21st, 2012
7:15 pm Vestry Meeting
November 22nd, 2012
7:00 am Men and Women’s Morning Bible Study at the
Bogani Café.
2:00 pm  Women’s Bible Study at M. Rys home
7:30 pm  Planning & Building Meeting
November 23rd – 26th, 2012
Tim is away.
November 24th, 2012
3:30 – 5:30 pm  Spaghetti Church
November 25th, 2012        Reign of Christ
9:00 am Morning Worship
10:30 am Morning Worship and Sunday School 

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Sermon for November 11th - the Story of Ruth

Ruth 3:1-5, 4:13-17                                                                                       November 11th 2012
Ruth, the Faithful Outsider

Not long after Marci and I were married we moved to a little town in northeastern Saskatchewan, where I worked as parish assistant in three little Anglican congregations – Arborfield, Red Earth, and Shoal Lake, one white community and two Cree reserves. In the little town in Ontario where I’d been living and working before we were married, we’d come across a little Gospel Hall with Sunday evening services, and since I didn’t work Sunday evenings and we liked to try different things, we went along to their services. We found them to be a warm and friendly little church and we went back to worship with them several times. So when we moved to Arborfield, we were pleased to discover that there was a Gospel Hall there too, and we looked forward to joining them from time to time.

That’s when we found out that not all Gospel Halls are the same! We went to a Wednesday evening prayer meeting that we saw advertised on their notice board, but we quickly discovered that they weren’t really expecting, or even wanting, visitors from another church. At the front of their meeting hall the chairs were set around in a rough square, facing each other, and then the rest of the chairs at the back of the room were in rows facing the front like an ordinary church. When we walked in, the regulars were all sitting in the square at the front; they were astounded to see us, and when we told them who we were, we were quickly ushered into a seat in one of the rows, outside the square; “You can sit here”, we were told. We got the message loud and clear: we were outsiders, and they were suspicious of outsiders. Not surprisingly, we never went back.

I suspect that if you were a foreigner, moving to Israel in ancient times was a bit like us going to that Gospel Hall. Israel saw itself as a distinct society, worshipping the one true God while all its neighbours worshipped idols. And in the law of Israel there were strong statements about not marrying outsiders and keeping pure from their idolatry and sin. But in the story of Ruth we read about someone who bucked that trend, and, possibly to her surprise, she found a community that was willing to welcome her.

Historically this little story is set ‘In the days when the judges ruled’. In other words, we’re taking about the time after Moses and Joshua led the people out of Egypt and into the promised land, but before the days when there were kings like Saul and David to rule over them. The story starts in Bethlehem in Judea, with a man named Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons Mahlon and Chilion. There was a famine in the land, so Elimelech took his family to the neighbouring country of Moab to live. This would be rather adventurous for an Israelite, as the Moabites were traditional enemies of Israel.

Elimelech died soon after the family arrived in Moab, but the two sons both married Moabite women, Orpah and Ruth – another unusual thing for an Israelite family. They stayed in Moab for about ten years, and then both Mahlon and Chilion also died, leaving Naomi all alone with her foreign daughters-in-law.

Naomi heard that the famine was over in Bethelehem, so she decided to go home to her own country, and her daughters-in-law began to go with her. But she tried to discourage them from doing so: ‘Go back to your own mothers’ houses’, she said, ‘and may the Lord deal kindly with you as you have dealt kindly with me. There’s no point in you coming along with me; even if I were to marry again and have sons, would you wait ‘til they were grown and marry them?’ This refers to a custom in ancient Israel; when a man died without children, his brother was to marry his widow and raise up children, who would then be counted as the dead man’s children so that his family line would continue. From this we can infer that both Mahlon and Chilion had died without producing heirs.

Well, Orpah turned back and returned to her own land, but Ruth would not. ‘Where you go, I will go’, she said to Naomi. ‘I’ll live where you live, your people will be my people, and your God my God. Where you die, I will die, and I’ll be buried with you’. And so Naomi accepted her company, and the two returned to Bethlehem together.

Of course in those days, two women living alone without a man to support them would have been in a vulnerable position. How would they earn a living? There was a requirement in the law of Moses that at the harvest time farmers should leave the wheat standing on the edges of their fields so that the poor and needy could ‘glean’ it. Also workers who accidentally dropped stalks of wheat were not to pick them up again but leave them for the poor. So Naomi sent her daughter in law to glean in a nearby field; it happened to belong to a man named Boaz. When he heard who Ruth was – apparently her reputation of caring for her mother-in-law had gotten around - he instructed his workers to make it easy for her by intentionally dropping some wheat behind them, and he also invited her to eat with his workers when they took their lunch break. So Ruth did quite well that day, and at Boaz’ invitation she stayed in his fields and gleaned behind his workers all through harvest time.

We need a little background in Jewish law to understand what happened next. As we’ve already seen, there was a lot of concern for the continuation of family lines and family property. If a man died leaving a widow, the law required that a near relative should marry the widow, so that the man’s land would not pass outside the clan or tribe. The nearest relative, the one who had the obligation to marry the widow, was called in Hebrew the ‘goel’, which we could translate ‘kinsman-redeemer’; it was his job to ‘redeem’ the land if it was to be sold to support the widow, and to marry her as well.

It turned out that Boaz was a very close relative to Naomi’s late husband, and so Naomi’s next plan was to try to set him up with Ruth. She sent Ruth to the place where Boaz and his workers were winnowing barley at their threshing floor. ‘He’s going to sleep there tonight’, she said; ‘When he’s fallen asleep, lie down at his feet, and when he wakes, he’ll know what to do”.

Sure enough, Boaz woke up during the night and saw Ruth lying there. When he asked what she wanted, she replied, ‘Spread your cloak over your servant, because you are the goel’. Boaz was very pleased; apparently he was an older man, and she was a younger woman, and he was flattered that she had gone to him rather than someone younger. ‘I’ll do what you ask’, he said, ‘but we’ve got to do this right. It’s true that I’m a close relative, but there is someone who’s closer still, and he actually has the right to redeem your father-in-law’s land. If he’ll do it, fair enough; if not, I will’.

So Ruth stayed the rest of the night, and in the morning Boaz gave her a sack of barley to take home for her and her mother. Then he went into town and took his seat at the gate, which was where business deals and legal matters were transacted in those days. Pretty soon the other man, the closer relative of whom Boaz had spoken, came by, and Boaz invited him to sit down. He then asked for ten elders of the town to sit there as witnesses, and they did so.

Boaz then said to the other man: ‘Our relative Naomi is going to sell the land that belonged to her late husband Elimelech. You’re the goel; you’ve got the right to redeem it. I need to know if you’re going to do so, because if not, I’m the next in line’. The man replied, ‘I’ll redeem it’. Boaz said, ‘The day you buy the field you also acquire the hand of Naomi’s daughter-in-law Ruth the Moabite, to continue the dead man’s name on his inheritance’. The other man replied, ‘Then I don’t want to do it, because I don’t want to damage my own inheritance’. So Boaz said to the people sitting around, ‘You are witnesses that I’ve acquired Elimelech’s land, and also the hand of his daughter-in-law Ruth’, and they agreed, ‘We’re witnesses’.

So Boaz married Ruth, and they had a son who they called Obed. What follows is remarkable: Obed became the father of Jesse, and Jesse became the father of David, the shepherd boy who became the great king of Israel. So David’s great-grandma was a foreigner, a Moabite woman, an outsider. And not only that, but Jesus was a descendant of David, so Ruth took her place in the family tree of the Messiah.

On one level this becomes a lovely romantic story, a strong contrast to all the savagery and killing going on in the book of Judges which is set in the same time period in Israel’s history. In fact, in the 1950s a Holywood movie was made of this story, bringing out the romantic elements to the full! But on another level there’s a lot going on theologically in this story.

In the Old Testament we see a discussion going on about what it means to be God’s faithful people. The Israelites saw idolatry as the basic sin. If you worship something that is not in fact God, then you’ve taken the one true God and replaced him with a lie. And worshipping a lie, you then come to believe all sorts of other lies about the sort of life you ought to live. That’s why the Ten Commandments lay such strong emphasis on not worshipping false gods. ‘You shall have no other gods before me’. ‘You shall not make for yourself a graven image’.

Most of the Old Testament authors believed that, if you want to keep yourself free from idolatry, the best thing to do is to avoid idolaters. So keep strict boundaries for the people of Israel; don’t allow foreigners in, don’t trust them, and certainly don’t intermarry with them. We see this line taken in two books that were probably written at about the same time as Ruth – Ezra and Nehemiah. In those books, Israelites who have married outside of the ethnic boundaries of Israel have committed a grave sin; they’ve brought Israel into the danger of being tempted toward idolatry again. Ezra and Nehemiah and people like them could point to all sorts of evidence, too: ‘Don’t you remember the story of King Solomon? He started out good, but then he married a bunch of foreign women who worshipped false gods, and the next thing you know, he was worshipping their gods too!’

As I say, this disapproving stance toward outsiders is the dominant view in the Old Testament. But it’s not the only view. There’s another strand with a more positive attitude toward foreigners, and the story of Ruth is part of this strand. Here we don’t see any disapproval of Ruth’s status as a foreigner. No one accuses her of being an idol-worshipper who was trying to lead Israel astray. In fact, we’re told explicitly at the beginning of the story that she says to her mother-in-law Naomi, ‘Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God’. In other words, this foreigner, who had been raised to worship the Moabite gods, decided to become a worshipper of Yahweh, the God of Israel – and no one questioned that this was a perfectly right and proper thing for her to do.

But she needed someone to bring her into the family, and in the ancient world the only way this could happen would be if someone in the family married her. A woman couldn’t just up and change her religion without consulting her husband! And so Boaz acted as her goel, her kinsman-redeemer, marrying her and bringing her into the family of God’s people – and into a very privileged place in the family history, as the great-grandmother of Israel’s greatest king.

In New Testament terms, we Canadian Christians are like Ruth. In the Old Testament we would have been seen as outsiders, ‘strangers to the covenants of promise’, as Paul puts it. The Jews were in, but we were not. But we have a redeemer, a goel, who has brought us into the family. In the Bible the relationship between Jesus and his Church is often seen as a betrothal or a marriage: the Church is ‘the Bride of Christ’. He has extended the borders of the family of God’s people, and now we’re inside.

But you can get too comfortable inside, and forget what it’s like for people who are still on the outside. That’s not a good place to be for followers of the redeemer Jesus, who was constantly on the lookout for outsiders who he could bring in. And like ancient Israel, we have a choice about this. We live in a culture that is becoming less and less friendly to organized religion. Our society used to be thought of as Christian, but now it definitely isn’t. So what are we going to do? Are we going to circle the wagons, concentrate on our own little religious club, and assume that everyone out there has no interest in God and Christ at all? Or are we going to go out confidently into a world that belongs to God, whether it acknowledges the fact or not, with the message that Jesus gave us: that everyone who is carrying a heavy load is invited to come to him and find rest, that all people are invited to become his disciples?

This, of course, is a very important thing for us to keep in mind on Remembrance Day. One of the insidious things about war is that it divides the world into ‘us’ and ‘them’ – ‘us’, who are on the inside, the good people, and ‘them’, the outsiders, the evil people. So the foreigner, the person who is different, becomes an object of fear, and we circle the wagons to keep them out. We might even demonise them, see them as somehow less than human, to make it easier for us to kill them. The tragic story of the twentieth century, with the bloodiest wars ever fought in human history, should have given us an object lesson into where that attitude leads.

The story of Ruth tells us that, to God, there are no outsiders – there are only people made in the image of God, loved by God, people who God wants to draw into the community called by his name. But we need to remember one thing – and I’m going to leave you with this thought. Would Ruth have come into the family of Israel without Naomi and Boaz to bring her in? I suspect not. No matter how interested she was in the God of Israel, the boundaries would have been just too great. And outside the borders of organized religion there are many people like Ruth – people of good will, people who are wanting to know God, people who are curious about Jesus. I suspect that you know some of those people; I know for sure that I know some of them. Are you going to be Naomi, or Boaz, for them – the one who will invite them to come in, the one who will introduce them to Jesus their redeemer?