A Covenant People (Ros' Blog)
“Ruth said, ‘Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.’”
These words are from Ruth 1. 16-17, and the reading is the one my daughter and her fiancé have chosen for their wedding on Saturday. It is a story I love; Ruth’s devotion is not only to her mother-in-law, but also to the God she has glimpsed in the older woman’s life.
I love it because it is so rich; if you mine deep into this story you find that it contains so many treasures. The devotion between Ruth and Naomi is a model for all of us in our family relationships. They are casting their lot in together; whatever befalls one will befall the other. They will travel together, live together and worship together. Nothing in this life will be allowed to part them. What a perfect model for a marriage!
But there is more in this passage, too. This kind of selfless love is only possible because we are made in the image of God, and His love is demonstrated in and through us. If we mere mortals are capable of loving one another like this, how loyal and unswerving must God’s love for us be!
And it sets a pattern for our relationships within the church. Church is not a building or a denomination or a group of people who prefer a particular mode of worship. Church is a body of people who have a covenant of love with each other, within the love of God, and like all the covenants depicted in the Bible, there is no get out clause. We are in this together, come what may, an ever-expanding family bound together in the love of God and laying down our lives for one another.
One of the saddest things that came out of our survey of disabled people’s experience of church was that for many, this is not what belonging to the Body of Christ is like. People will make adjustments for them as long as these are not too inconvenient or too expensive. The church will allocate funds to install an induction loop, but not to service and maintain it. Congregations will tolerate an autistic child as long as he is quiet but at the first meltdown, instead of finding out what in the church environment has triggered the reaction and trying to adjust it for his comfort, at best there will be tutting, and frequently the family will be asked to leave.
Suppose we looked at every disabled person who came into our church and said to each one, “Where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”
How would we then respond when the people on the rota for picking up that wheelchair user grew tired of the chore and preferred a half hour lie-in on a Sunday? Or when there were funds available for putting in a ramp or decorating the building but not both? Or when that single mother stopped coming because the effort of controlling her children all by herself throughout the service meant that she no longer gained anything by being there? Or when someone was needed each week to produce the notices and songs in a large-print version? If our relationship with each of these people was based on the kind of covenant love that Ruth showed for Naomi, nothing would be too much trouble. The worst disaster would be that they might stop coming and we might lose touch with them. We would stop at nothing to ensure that didn’t happen. It’s a challenge, isn’t it?
We love stories of churches which are embodying this covenant-love way of life, especially to the disabled people in their communities. If you know of any great examples that would encourage us, we would be delighted to hear them. You can contact us on 01372 737042 or email me by following this link.