A guided prayer meditation reflecting on hands, by Sarah Shelton, Families Worker at Felpham Methodist Church, first used at Zoom PrayerSpace in April 2020.
As part of Bible Month 2020 we are unpacking the short story of Ruth, a story of finding hope and finding home in the midst of vulnerability and loss. Find out more here.
We’ve been enjoying the start of the growing season the last couple weeks, radishes, cucumbers, strawberries, raspberries are just beginning to ripen too…
The story of Ruth starts very differently, Ruth 1 opens with a famine. A loss of fruitfulness of the land in Bethlehem. So to survive Elimelech takes his wife, Naomi and their sons Mahlon and Chilion to another country Moab.
While in Moab, Elimelech dies, and Mahlon and Chilion marry women from Moab – Orpah and Ruth. Mahlon and Chilion also died, which leads Naomi as a foreigner in Moab, with two daughters in law, and no men to look after them in their patriarchal society. The security of family and hope was no longer stable.
The land lost its productivity, women lose their husbands, their well-being, their independence.
Naomi must have been at a low, struggling for hope, residing in a foreign land, amidst the layers of loss she’s experienced. Struggling to find hope.
Reflect: I wonder if you can relate to Naomi’s struggle?
Living in a coronavirus world, we’ve experienced loss in new and intensified ways. Loss of life, physical contact with others, freedom to spend time with friends and family, perhaps lost the ability to work or go to school. We’ve lost independence and certainty. It can be hard to hold onto hope.
What does Naomi do? Well, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t resign herself to be beaten. She doesn’t settle for the idea that she has to simply live with loss without a hope for the future. In struggle with loss, life can go on.
Naomi hears there’s food in Bethlehem, so she sets out for home. Ruth and Orpah are set to go with her, committed to their mother-in-law.
Naomi says to them, ‘go back to your mother, may God look after you there’. Initially they say no, we’ll stay with you, but Naomi insists, and in the end Orpah with weeping and heartache says farewell and heads on her way.
But Ruth holds onto her Mother-in-law:
“do not make me leave you,Ruth 1:16
where you go I will go,
where you stay I will stay,
your people will be my people,
your God will be my God.”
Seeing Ruth’s determination, Naomi says no more.
We know little about the story of Ruth or Orpah up to this point, but just as Naomi experienced loss and was vulnerable, so were they.
Both lost their husbands, both would have had anxieties about their future security, stability and survival. Both make sacrifices on their journey for survival.
Orpah’s sacrifice is to let go of her new family and go back to her past.
Ruth’s sacrifice is to hold on, to not go back to her past family, to travel with Naomi and become a foreigner herself, just as Naomi had been.
I wonder if in Naomi, Ruth saw in Naomi’s Israelite faith a glimmer of hope, hope that things could be different for her, by risking vulnerability to make that hope her own.
For all 3 widows, living in loss meant taking action, making choices and sacrifices, living in a way that helped them see possibilities of hope.
Today, we can have faith in God, who is stable and certain to be with us, love us and forgive us. The hope we have in God turns the uncertainties of our present into possibility for the future.
Opportunties for new, deeper, stronger relationships to bloom and grow. Opportunities to learn, be changed, challenged, transformed.
Despite our struggle in the chaos of uncertainty – the opening of this story shows us that in the midst of vulnerability and loss, hope always has the last word. God has the last word.
Despite our living in loss, life can go on, grow and flourish.
And as we unpack the story further we’ll discover more about how hope is kindled, finding hope and home in the midst of vulnerability and loss.
I pray you know the hope of God in your living today.
Join the Conversation
How does Ruth 1 speak to you?
What is on your heart today?
You can share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Listen and Understand.
A message for a lockdown Pentecost
At Bognor Regis, Felpham and Westergate, some of us have been reading the book of Acts throughout May and today we reach the last chapter.
Today is also Pentecost, the day we remember that the disciples were filled with God’s Spirit and were able to speak in many languages so that everyone could understand their message.
In this week’s Sunday Reflections, I think about Acts 28, Pentecost, how much God wants us all to know him, and the invitation we have to respond.
Many of us have been travelling through the book of Acts this May, and today we reach the final chapter Acts 28. In the last few chapters Paul has been arrested and put on trial for telling people how much he loves Jesus, and encouraging others to know him to, and now he’s been put on a ship to sail to Rome. Except the ship gets caught in a storm and they go adrift, landing on an unknown island, they later learn is called Malta.
After being on trial for some time, and travelling on the ship through dangerous storms, Paul must have been pretty glad to be safely on dry land. But he was in a new land, a land that wasn’t familiar.
Today is a special day when as Christians we celebrate the festival Pentecost. This festival takes us back to the start of Acts, when Jesus disciples were experiencing their own unfamiliar time.
Jesus death, resurrection and returning to his father was definitely not what they expected. They felt alone, living in a way that was unfamiliar to them.
I think there’s some similarities here to living I lockdown. The way we live, work, shop, learn, travel, interact with family, friends & neighbours has all changed. Even 10 weeks on, I still feel like I’m in a very unfamiliar land, and the uncertainty about the future doesn’t help either.
For Paul, for the disciples, and for all of us, the Spirit of God comes to us. The presence and power of God that supports us, encourages us, affirms us and say’s no matter how you feel, I am with you.
For Paul the presence of God with him was so strong that the natives of Malta thought he was a God. For the disciples the Spirit of God enabled them to speak in every language. For Peter he stood up and delivered a stonker of a sermon and convinced about 3000 people to join the Way – which is the early name for the people now known as Christians.
In Acts 28 Paul says:
“You will indeed listen, but never understand,Acts 28:26
and you will indeed look, but never perceive.”
Paul challenges the people that are listening to him. Will you seek to understand, will you seek to see, or will you just look and listen and then carry on as if what you’ve heard makes no difference?
I encourage you today to listen. To listen to what God’s Spirit is saying to you. Yes you. Just as God’s Spirit enabled the disciples to speak in every language, God’s Spirit speaks the language of your heart and mind.
God understand your worries.
God knows your strains and anxieties.
God knows this unfamiliar way of life, with all its uncertainties is tough at times.
Whether you’ve never had a care in the world about God until today,
or you’ve been a Christian all your life,
or you used to go, but you’ve not been much recently,
It really doesn’t matter.
What matters is if you’ll seek to see and understand today.
God is waiting for you, and I believe God’s Spirit is already with you, and in you, just waiting for you to see, whether for the first, 10th or 100th time.
If you want to know more about God and the difference God makes to the lives of many, including you, do get in touch with us or find a church near you can connect with.
Join the Conversation
How is God’s Spirit speaking to you this Pentecost?
If you’ve been reading through Acts this May, how has God spoken to you through it? What has been the standout verse or story for you? Please share in the comments below.
Downloadable Text Version
This week I reflect on Acts 21, and ask how Paul’s delay in visiting Jerusalem and the resulting encounter with Agabus might help us as we continue in coronavirus lockdown and the uncertainties of the future.
Many of us are travelling through the book of Acts this May, and today we reach Acts 21.
Acts 21 starts with Paul – who is on way to Jerusalem, and wanting to go to Jerusalem – we know that from Acts 20 where he seems to be desperately wanting to go. But we read that God’s Spirit tells Paul not to go. After being so desperate, that must have been painful for Paul.
So instead of going to Jerusalem, Paul goes to a number of other places, and while in Judea, meets a prophet called Agabus. Now Agabus comes and takes Paul’s belt, then ties his own hands a feet together and says – this is what the Spirit says will happen to the owner of this belt in Jerusalem.
I wonder how paul felt in that moment… anxious, worried, sacred?
A short while later, we read Paul and his team got ready and started headed towards Jerusalem. And, time for a trailer – God does great things through Paul in Jerusalem.
Reflecting on those snippets of this part of Paul’s story… I wonder if there’s something for us as we live in lockdown.
I wonder if, through pausing, and then encountering Agabus, Paul was more prepared for his destination, more ready for what would happen in Jerusalem, and therefore more able to deal with it. I wonder whether, after his encounter with Agabus, Paul saw his destination differently?
There’s been a lot of things happen we were not prepared for at the start of 2020. Lots of things are on pause, but it doesn’t mean things won’t happen. But as the world keeps saying, things will be different – to what extent we don’t know, but we’re being told to expect a new normal.
But just like for Paul who readied himself and carried on, I wonder if we too need to be open to readying ourselves for the new normal that is to come. Opening ourselves for the Spirit’s prompting.
To see lockdown as a space to listen to God’s Spirit as we pause, and allow God’s Spirit to make us ready for what is to come? To be ready for the great things of God that are to come.
As the uncertainties of lockdown continue,
help me to make space to pause and listen for your Spirit,
ready me for the future,
and fill me with excitement for the great things to come.
Join the conversation
Have you paused to listen to God recently?
Have you know God’s Spirit strengthen and preparing
Could you share the story of your encounter with us you?
Comment below – I’d love to hear from you.
Leader: Jesus Christ is Risen!
Response: Is he?
Leader: He is Risen Indeed!
Response: Is he really?
Response: I thought he was dead?
After the sabbath, as the first day of the week was dawning, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary went to see the tomb.Matthew 28:1, NRSV
As Jesus was crucified Matthew tells us that many women who had been following and providing for Jesus looked on from a distance (Matt 27:55). Two days later, under the dim light of dawn some of them head towards the tomb.
These women were grief stricken, devastated, broken-hearted – having watched the one they’d followed and provided for taken from then, beaten, mocked and killed. And not just killed, but killed under the painful cruelty of crucifixion.
I wonder if those women felt lost, no longer having Jesus to follow and learn from. I wonder if they felt as if they’d lost a sense of purpose, their vocation of providing for Jesus so brutally taken from them. I wonder how they felt now that Jesus was no longer alive. The one who had shown acceptance, compassion and love to these women was gone. I wonder how they felt, with the prospect that they may never be accepted and loved by someone else in that way again.
As they approach the tomb, they expect the stone to be there, sealing Jesus’ body in. They perhaps expect the guards to be there. What they don’t expect, is for the earth to tremble and shake and an angel appear before them, in bright light and dazzling white and roll the stone away – and then take a seat (Matthew 28:2-3).
Matthew’s storytelling makes me smile. All that drama – light, earthquake, stone rolled away – and then what does the angel do? They sit down. Just needs a pot of tea and scones for a truly English picnic (with proper social distancing of course!).
But the angel said to the women, ‘Do not be afraid; I know that you are looking for Jesus who was crucified. He is not here; for he has been raised, as he said. Come, see the place where he lay. Then go quickly and tell his disciples, “He has been raised from the dead, and indeed he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him.” This is my message for you.’Matthew 28:5-7, NRSV
In that moment, I wonder what those women felt. Joy or terror? Hope or disbelief? Maybe they did accept the angels invitation and look into the tomb and see it was empty. But did they believe the impossible could have happened? Did they believe this dazzling angel – sat on a stone – was telling the truth?
With both fear and joy they head towards the disciples to tell them. Joy that the angel could be telling the truth. Fear that the angel could indeed not be an angel, in which case what has really happened to Jesus? Was Jesus risen? Was this resurrection thing true?
Suddenly Jesus met them and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came to him, took hold of his feet, and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.’Matthew 28:9-10, NRSV
The women’s doubts dispelled, they can race on. Joy in their hearts – Jesus really is alive. How? Why? When? None of that matters. They have a message to deliver, there is hope in their hearts – Jesus is alive!
But that’s not the only tale that goes on to be told. The guards, they’ve already headed off to the authorities to report, and another story is soon devised to explain the unexpected events – blame the disciples, say they came in the night and took the body (28:11-13).
And for Matthew’s story (which like Mark, has very little resurrection story to tell compared with Luke and John), even when the other disciples do see Jesus and worship him some still doubt. Could this resurrection thing really be true? And what does it really mean for the future?
When we travel through Lent, and then Holy Week, Easter Sunday is often the end point, the climax, the destination. It’s the place we know we’re going to get to at the end of the pain and suffering. And generally, as soon as dawn breaks – where there.
But for the disciples, for 1st Century Palestine, it’s wasn’t so cut and dried. Resurrection wasn’t such a given. There was doubt, uncertainty and fear. There were multiple stories and little resource to tell the difference between them.
It took time for the resurrection story to spread across society.
It took time for the resurrection to be believed.
It took time for Jesus friends to experience the resurrection for themselves.
For Jesus’ first followers, and for 1st Century Palestine, the Resurrection was not a one day event. It didn’t arrive for the whole of society as dawn broke, but took time to be known, experienced and believed – if indeed it was believed at all.
We know the truth of the resurrection. We live the truth. Jesus Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed! Alleluia!
Due to Covid-19, there is an inevitability that for many of us, while knowing the truth, Easter Sunday will feel odd, different & strange. It may be hard to hold onto the truth in the isolated living we currently experience.
I think it’s worth reminding ourselves that rather than a one day even, Easter is a period – a season – which takes us from today all the way to Pentecost (this year 31st May). A season of entering into the new of the resurrection, where the discovery of the hope of new life is allowed time to be fully known, realised and experienced.
Perhaps this year we experience the resurrection more like Jesus’ first followers did, and more like the Easter season invites us, not as the dawning of a one day event, but one that takes time for us to fully realise. One where we embrace the wonderful and life changing truth of the resurrection of Christ, the truth that sets us free, while waiting to discover the full impact of the resurrection to come.
No gathering to worship in church buildings and singing Thine be the glory with organ at full blast. They remain as empty as the tomb. Waiting. For those who are used to it, no Easter Sunday communion – today the plate and cup remain as empty as the tomb. Waiting.
They wait, and we wait, for when our resurrection from lockdown comes.
Waiting to discover afresh resurrection’s impact.
All the while knowing the truth which sets us free.
Jesus Christ is Risen – He is Risen indeed – Alleluia!
Join the conversation
if you’ve got thoughts or something to share after reading and reflecting on my thoughts, you can comment below and share them with us all – I’d love to hear from you.