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Table of Contents
Focus Text: Ruth 1:1-18
In the days when the judges ruled, there was a famine in the land, and a certain man of Bethlehem in Judah went to live in the country of Moab, he and his wife and two sons. The name of the man was Elimelech and the name of his wife Naomi, and the names of his two sons were Mahlon and Chilion; they were Ephrathites from Bethlehem in Judah. They went into the country of Moab and remained there. But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. These took Moabite wives; the name of the one was Orpah and the name of the other Ruth. When they had lived there about ten years, both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
Then she started to return with her daughters-in-law from the country of Moab, for she had heard in the country of Moab that the LORD had considered his people and given them food. So she set out from the place where she had been living, she and her two daughters-in-law, and they went on their way to go back to the land of Judah. But Naomi said to her two daughters-in-law, “Go back each of you to your mother’s house. May the LORD deal kindly with you, as you have dealt with the dead and with me. The LORD grant that you may find security, each of you in the house of your husband.”
Then she kissed them, and they wept aloud. They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” But Naomi said, “Turn back, my daughters, why will you go with me? Do I still have sons in my womb that they may become your husbands? Turn back, my daughters, go your way, for I am too old to have a husband. Even if I thought there was hope for me, even if I should have a husband tonight and bear sons, would you then wait until they were grown? Would you then refrain from marrying? No, my daughters, it has been far more bitter for me than for you, because the hand of the LORD has turned against me.”
Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her. 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 1:1-18
When an immigrant resides with you in your land, you shall not oppress the alien. The alien who resides with you shall be to you as the citizen among you; you shall love the alien as yourself, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt: I am the LORD your God.
Thus says the LORD: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.
Other Lectionary Texts
- Deuteronomy 6:1-9
- Psalm 146
- Psalm 119:1-8
- Mark 12:28-34
- Hebrews 9:11-14
Scriptural Commentary on Ruth 1:1-18
The migration story is key to biblical ancestry. In the book of Ruth, one family is the focal point. It begins with Elimelech, his wife Naomi, and their two sons, who take Moabite wives, having to leave Judah and move to Moab because of a famine. Eventually all the men die, and the women are left alone. Naomi is a stranger in a strange land, who learns that there is no longer famine in Judah, so she exercises her right to return. However, she does not go alone. Ruth, her Moabite daughter-in-law, says, in Ruth 1:16, “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!” The rest of the story is the story of Boaz adhering closely to God’s requirement to offer hospitality to the stranger. He permits her to glean, protects her, and eventually marries her, bringing the sojourner into the fold and making her part of the family.
Fortunately for him, there were no I-130 family petitions to sign or other immigration regulations to make life difficult. Also, she did not have to leave the country for three to ten years before being allowed to return to begin life as his wife.
(From The Bible as the Ultimate Immigration Handbook: Written By, For, and About Migrants, Immigrants, Refugees, and Asylum Seekers by Rev. Joan M. Maruskin, Church World Service Immigration and Refugee Program, www.churchworldservice.org/Immigration/
Pastoral Reflection on Ruth 1:1-18
Embedded in Ruth’s story is a powerful lesson about the power of determination, resilience, and love in the face of rejection and adversity.
The text tells the story of a family forced out from their land. Due to scarcity, the family members become immigrants, leaving behind everything familiar and all that they love. Although the text does not mention it, one can speculate that in the back of their minds there was always the hope that their situation was only temporary, that they would someday return home. But life got complicated: when the father died, the mother had to decide whether to stay in this new land or to return home. No explanation is given as to why the mother chooses to stay, but what is clear is that eventually the two sons root themselves to the land that was not theirs by marrying women of that land. Later, the two sons die too, and once again the mother is left with the decision of whether to stay or to go. This time, however, the mother not only felt abandoned by God, but she actually felt God was acting against her. In the midst of grief and economic desperation, she resolves to once again leave behind this land that had become her home. She asks her two daughters-in-law to go back to their home, to their own people, that they might be cared for. The three women cry together as they prepare to be separated. Orpah kisses her mother-in-law and heads for home, but Ruth clings to Naomi, refusing to leave her side. Ruth maintains such determination that the mother is left with little choice than to accept the decision and to say no more.
This story demonstrates the power of determination, resilience, and love working together. Elimelech’s resilience and love for his family led him to move to a strange land. Naomi’s resilience and love for her children led her to stay in Moab with his children. Love was what led Mahlon and Chilion to marry Orpah and Ruth. Naomi’s resilience and love led her to release Orpah and Ruth, and Ruth’s resilience and love led her to stay with Naomi. Ruth’s resilience and love became God’s answer to Naomi’s hopelessness and sense of abandonment.
As part of my ministry as director of the Duke Divinity School Hispanic House of Studies, I lead educational immersions to the US-Mexico border. Students interact with people not unlike the family in this text, people forced to leave their land and those they love due to scarcity in their homeland. Students witness how most immigrants face displacement, rejection, danger, and even death, but somehow they keep their hope alive. The fuel for that hope is nothing more than love — love for their sons, daughters, wives, and husbands — love for their families.
The most heartbreaking stories are those of people brought as children to the United States but deported for minor offenses like driving without a license. For these people who had spent most of their lives in this country, the United States is the only home they know. It is powerful to hear
over and over again that, even when people have experienced rejection, oppression, and deportation, they still are thankful to this country, and they still dream of the day when they will return “home” to be reunited with their families. Most deportees, after all, no longer have a home in their country of origin, and the scarcity they escaped in the first place may now be even more extreme. For that reason, most deportees remain on the border and prefer to die trying to return home to their families in the U.S. But even if their bodies physically survive, social death will almost certainly occur if they cannot make it back to the United States. They cannot, after all, endlessly continue attempting to cross and to avoid years of incarceration. Sadly, many end up becoming homeless drug addicts and alcoholics.
Such stories of determination, resilience, and love remind me how Ruth responds to Naomi’s insistence that she return to her people. Even when her sister-in-law sets out to leave, Ruth clings to Naomi. In order to remain with her mother-in-law, Ruth was willing to leave her own people, to adopt Naomi’s people, and to embrace Naomi’s God. Ruth’s determination caused Naomi to change her mind: “[Naomi] said no more to her” and accepted Ruth’s unconditional love. In the end, it was the power of resilience and love that won over suffering, doubt, and threat of separation.
Most immigrants in the United States experience the sense of abandonment Naomi experienced. Most immigrants are here in the United States because they have fled scarcity in their place of origin. They tend to feel invisible and to experience society’s rejection of them. The challenge for the church today is to become the space where immigrants find what Naomi found in Ruth, which is unconditional love and acceptance. The church must become the place where immigrants find refugee, protection, and relief. The church must become the safe space where immigrants find the justice that is not found anywhere else.
– Rev. Ismael Ruiz-Millan, Director of the Duke Divinity School Hispanic House of Studies
Worship Aids about Justice for Immigrants
Remember the Immigrant
We serve a God who directs us to care especially for those most vulnerable in society. Our Scriptures tell us of God’s special concern for the “alien” or the “stranger,” or as more contemporary translations say—the immigrant.
For the Lord our God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who shows no partiality and accepts no bribes. God defends the cause of the orphan and the widow, and loves the immigrant, giving the immigrant food and clothing. And we are to love those who are immigrants, for God’s people were immigrants in Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:17-19)
We ask God to open our eyes to the struggles of immigrant workers, for we know that:
We must not take advantage of a hired worker who is poor and needy, whether the worker is a resident or immigrant living in our town. We must pay the worker the wages promptly because the worker is poor and counting on it. (Deuteronomy 24:14)
God’s desire is that those who build houses may live in them,
And that those who plant may eat. (Isaiah 65:22)
And yet we know this is not possible for many in our midst.
We know of farmworkers who cannot feed their families, construction workers who have no homes, nursing home workers who have no health care, restaurant workers who can not afford a meal in the restaurant.
We know that too many immigrant workers among us are not receiving the fruits of their labor, nor the justice required by the courts.
God charges our judges to hear disputes and judge fairly, whether the case involves citizens or immigrants. (Deuteronomy 1:16)
But our laws do not adequately protect immigrants. Our legal and social service programs exclude many immigrants. Our education programs undervalue immigrant children.
God tells us that the community is to have the same rules for citizens and for immigrants living among us. His is a lasting ordinance for the generations to come. Citizens and immigrants shall be the same before the Lord. (Numbers 15:15)
When an immigrant lives in our land,
We will not mistreat him or her. We will treat an immigrant as one of our native born. We will love an immigrant as ourselves, for God’s people were once immigrants in Egypt. (Leviticus 19:33-34)
To those who employ immigrant workers, we lift up God’s command:
Do not oppress an immigrant. God’s people know how it feels to be immigrants because they were immigrants in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
And a special word to those who employ immigrant farmworkers:
Make sure immigrants get a day of rest. (Exodus 23:12)
To those who craft our immigration laws and policies, we lift up God’s command:
Do not deprive the immigrant or the orphan of justice, or take the cloak of the widow as a pledge. Remember that God’s people were slaves in Egypt and the Lord our God redeemed them from there. (Deuteronomy 24:17-18)
To all of us who seek to do God’s will, help us to:
Love one another as God has loved us. Help us to treat immigrants with the justice and compassion that God shows to each of us. Amen.
(from the National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, www.nicwj.org/materials/materials_binserts.html)
Prayer of Confession
Tender and Fierce God,
whose work is justice and whose delight is mercy,
forgive us for ignoring the cries of workers
who labor under the tyranny of harassment, violence and poverty.
Free us from greed
that comforts our bodies and eats away at our souls.
Free us for a life of joyful resistance
to evil, injustice and oppression
in whatever forms they present themselves;
through Jesus Christ our only Lord.
(from the United Methodist Church Labor Day Message, accessible at www.nicwj.org/materials/materials_binserts.html)
Alternate Responsive Reading
We gather today to lift up immigrants who live and work in our community. We give thanks for the many gifts and talents they bring to our nation.
We give thanks and pray for all living in our community, but especially those who are immigrants among us.
There are over 32 million immigrants in the U.S. living and working in cities, suburbs and rural areas across the nation.
One in eight workers today is foreign born.
Except for Native Americans, we were all once new to this country.
Some of us came to the U.S. escaping poverty or oppression. Others of us were forced here on slave ships. Still others came seeking opportunity.
New immigrants come for many of the same reasons. Most immigrants come escaping poverty and oppression and seeking opportunities. Leviticus 19, verses 33 and 34 tell us:
“Don’t mistreat any foreigners who live in your land. Instead, treat them as well as you treat citizens and love them as much as you love yourself. Remember, you were once foreigners in the land of Egypt. I am the LORD your God.”
We serve a God who wants justice for all of God’s people.
God desires justice for native born and foreign born alike. All people are children of God. Amen.
(from The National Interfaith Committee for Worker Justice, “Celebrating Immigrants,” www.nicwj.org/materials/materials_celebImm.html)
Children's Sermon about Justice for Immigrants
– Immigrants should be treated as well as any other person Ruth 1:1-18
Theme: All people should be treated the same.
Object: A variety of pictures of immigrants.
Scripture: But Ruth replied, “Don’t urge me to abandon you, to turn back from following after you. Wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you stay, I will stay. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God. Ruth 1:16
When immigrants live in your land with you, you must not cheat them. Any immigrant who lives with you must be treated as if they were on of your citizens. You must love them as yourself, because you were immigrants in the land of Egypt; I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 CEB
Ask: Have you ever “left home?” Maybe to go visit grandparents or to go to camp. Or perhaps your entire family has moved to a new place. Do you know what an immigrant is? It is someone who moves from one country to another. Why would someone want to move to the United States from another country? (a better job, freedom, to get away from violence or war, to have better housing and food for the family, to get a good education, to have access to doctors, etc.)
Give a brief synopsis of the story of Ruth. Point out that Naomi was an immigrant in her daughters-in-law’s land; then Ruth became the immigrant when she followed Naomi to her homeland. And Boaz helped Ruth and changed her life.
Read the alternate text. Explain: God has a special concern for the stranger (immigrant). God says we are to love them as we love ourselves.
Challenge: When you hear about immigrants or immigration, remember that God instructed us to treat immigrants kindly and to help them when we can.
Prayer: We pray for everyone living in our community and especially for immigrants who live and work here in our own community. Help us to remember that all people are children of God and God loves us all. Amen.
Suggested Hymns about Justice for Immigrants
Come, We Who Love God’s Name
New Century Hymnal (United Church of Christ) 379
O Food to Pilgrims Given
United Methodist Hymnal 631
The Hymnal (1982) 308
O God of Vision
Chalice Hymnal (Disciples of Christ) 288
In the Breaking of the Bread / Cuando Partimos el Pan del Señor
Gather Hymnal (Catholic) 841
Quotes about Justice for Immigrants
Remember, remember always, that all of us… are descended from immigrants and revolutionists.
Franklin D. Roosevelt
Everywhere immigrants have enriched and strengthened the fabric of American life.
John F. Kennedy
Immigration is the sincerest form of flattery.
Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore, send these, the homeless, tempest tossed, I lift my lamp beside the golden door.
Emma Lazarus (inscribed on the Statue of Liberty)
“God’s love for others does not stop at the border; neither should ours.” – Dillon Burroughs
“The Church supports the human rights of all people and offers them pastoral care, education, and social services, no matter what the circumstances of entry into this country, and it works for the respect of the human dignity of all – especially those who find themselves in desperate circumstances.” – A Statement of the U.S. Catholic Bishops
Vignette about Justice for Immigrants
Immigration through the Eyes of Immigrants
[My] experience began Saturday, May 20 of the year 2000. It was the second time that we tried to cross into the American dream. The person who was going to take us across the border from Mexico to the United States was a lady named Alma; she hid us in the trunk of a compact car, which was very uncomfortable. She told us not to move for anything, and if immigration caught us to tell them that we had all three bought the car together. I was wearing three pairs of pants and four shirts underneath my jacket because they would not let us take suitcases, and the heat was suffocating. I remember that first I got into the trunk, and then my brother. We were both situated in the same position, with my face against his back. It felt a little bit difficult to breathe, but when the car began to move I could breathe better, but not very well. Soon, when we were in Tucson—what bad luck—a narcotics patroller stopped Alma and took her out of the car.
That was when my nightmare began. They closed the car completely with us still lying in it. I couldn’t find any air; I tried to find a pocket of oxygen somewhere, but my brother told me, “Don’t move! Don’t push me; you’re hurting me!” But the sensation of asphyxiation was unbearable. I don’t know how long I was in that torturous situation when soon everything started to get dark. I lost feeling in my body and something incredible happened—moments from my life began to fly by like a movie. It is very strange to begin to die like that.
Then my brother yelled, saying that immigration had tried to open the trunk, but could not, so they broke the back seats. Thus I began to feel air again, a lot of air. I could not move so they pulled me out by the hands and left me lying against the car until I could talk and see. I thanked them and they put me in a patrol car where Alma already was. They gave me water and the immigration officer turned the air conditioning on high.
This is part of what one has to go through to achieve the American dream.
In my life I have known many stories of people fighting daily in order to move ahead in search of opportunities to survive and fulfill their needs and those of their families—people like me and others trying to achieve hopes and dreams. To forge a better future with strength, work, and dedication even though it means the tears of an anguished mother facing the painful situation of knowing that her children are far away, watching time pass, praying that she will receive good news from her children.
What I can now tell is only a short part of a long story of my life, in which one day I left my house seeing the tears of my mother and my siblings as they watched me set off for dangerous places in which many lose their lives. These thoughts pushed us forward and led us to a point divided by a deep and wide river.
Upon arriving there, I, my father, and the others had to look to the other side, trying to get to it; and on the first try only one made it, but soon returned. The second time, we tried two at a time—I with my clothes in a bag full of air and my dreams with me. I dived in but only got to the middle of the river when the bag full of air that had supported me broke and the current dragged me and my clothing under, flooding my mouth and lungs and dreams so that I felt desperate, pleading for anyone to help me. One person tried, throwing me a dry log that came to me, and I with even less strength pulled my head out of the water; I could see my father crying with the other people, only to submerge again—tired, without strength, with my lungs full of water and in my mind remembering every instant of my life, every moment together with those I care for, sadness, joys, and so many things, so many dreams mixed with so many motivations. For them, I prayed to God; and in that moment I remember what he said to me: “Ayúdate que yo te aydaré” – “help yourself so that I might help you” – and with my knees on the rocks at the bottom of the river, I found the strength to propel myself up. And taking his hand, I reached the surface and swam to the shore where I began a new opportunity to continue forward, live happily with all the beauty God has given me. I give God thanks for all of the strength, faith, and family that he has given me, only him, my God.
(from “Hands of Harvest, Hearts of Justice,” a North Carolina farmworker curriculum produced by the NC Council of Churches’ Farm Worker Ministry Committee and the National Farm Worker Ministry)
Contacts & Resources for Justice for Immigrants
The North Carolina Religious Coalition for Justice for Immigrants is a statewide interfaith effort whose purpose is to provide a religious voice for welcoming immigrants. The Coalition continues to ask people of faith to sign onto a statement welcoming immigrants. The website contains numerous resources, denominational statements, legislative updates, and more information.
The North Carolina Council of Churches webpage on immigration issues offers helpful resources for people of faith, including links to policy statements.
Interfaith Worker Justice is an organization that calls upon our religious values in order to educate, organize, and mobilize the religious community in the U.S. on issues and campaigns that will improve wages, benefits, and working conditions for workers, especially low-wage workers. Contains useful information on workers who are largely underpaid immigrants.
El Pueblo, Inc. isa North Carolina non-profit statewide advocacy and public policy organization dedicated to strengthening the Latino Community. This mission is accomplished through leadership development, proactive and direct advocacy, education, and promotion of cross-cultural understanding in partnerships at the local, state, and national levels.
The National Immigration Law Center is a national support center whose mission is to protect and promote the rights and opportunities of low-income immigrants and their family members. NILC staff specializes in immigration law, and the employment and public benefits rights of immigrants. NILC conducts policy analysis and impact litigation and provides publications, technical advice, and trainings to a broad constituency of legal aid agencies, community groups, and pro bono attorneys.
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights is a national organization composed of local coalitions and immigrant, refugee, community, religious, civil rights and labor organizations and activists. NNIRR works to promote a just immigration and refugee policy in the United States and to defend and expand the rights of all immigrants and refugees, regardless of immigration status. Contains useful resources and statistics on immigration.
Facts and Reflection about Justice for Immigrants
- On average, undocumented workers contribute more to the economy (in the form of taxes, economic growth provided by undocumented labor, and consumer spending) than they receive in benefits from various governments.
- Immigrant communities throughout North Carolina are living increasingly in a state of fear and insecurity due to programs in which local law enforcement agencies are actively enforcing federal immigration laws. These programs have led to the deportation of thousands of undocumented immigrants statewide, often separating hardworking parents from their children.
- High numbers of immigrants have no relation to high unemployment. Recent immigrants constitute 7.3 percent of the population in New Jersey, but only 0.8 percent of the population in Maine. Yet unemployment rates in both states are almost identical: 8.3 percent in New Jersey and 8.1 percent in Maine.
- Mass deportation of 12 million people is impractical, will cost billions of dollars and take years to accomplish, if ever. And it is certainly not the way to get the economy back on track.
- Dozens of faith groups representing millions of Americans have vocally advocated for immigration reform. The support of faith groups who often disagree on other political issues demonstrates that immigration reform is a moral imperative crossing political lines.
- There were 11.2 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2012, a total unchanged from 2009, and currently making up 3.5% of the nation’s population.
- Less than one in five immigrants lives in poverty, and they are no more likely to use social services than the native-born Americans.In 2012, 19.1 percent of immigrants lived in poverty, while 15.4 percent of the native-born population lived in poverty.
- One in five undocumented immigrant adults has a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse.