Saturday, November 10, 2012

GUEST SERMON: ROSS J. KING

NAOMI, RUTH AND ORPAH
WILLIAM BLAKE, 1795
We have a peacemaker among us. I refer to my second youngest brother Ross J. King who holds an M.Div from Fuller Theological Seminary (among other degrees), teaches special ed. in Lowell, Massachusetts, is the father of the illustrious Allen E. King (aka "The King of Amherst Park"), and occasionally delivers the sermon at churches in the Nashua, New Hampshire area.

Here's last Sunday's offering which is just as, if not more, applicable post- as pre-election. Cooperation, compassion, communion--How...sane. How...characteristic of Christ-like love...How...radical!.....

Sermon: “Wherever God Calls, I Will Follow”
November 4, 2012

 One of our lectionary readings today comes from the first chapter of the book of Ruth. You may know the name but not the details of the story. This is a small book, set in the 12th century B.C., but it is a story with significant historical and religious consequences for Israel and for us. It is a story with a theme which people of every nation can relate to—that of friendship. The  friendship is between two women: Ruth and Naomi.

Naomi is poor and widowed. On top of that both of her sons have died, so she has no viable means of  support. All she has left in the land of Moab where she lives are her two daughters-in-law (Orpah and Ruth).  In her own eyes, Naomi feels her life, as she knew it, is pretty much over. In a male-dominated culture and society she is without the help of her husband and both of her sons, and given her age she has no hope to remarry. She has seen the tough side of life, even believing that the hand of God had turned against her. She gets word that back in the land of Judah, where her husband is from, there may be more food available. Naomi makes the decision to return to Judah, and for a while she is accompanied by the two younger women. But early in the journey, Naomi urges both Ruth and Orpah to return to Moab.  Orpah, decides to heed Naomi’s recommendation and she returns . But Ruth is resistant and is determined to stay with her mother-in-law, no matter what.

Ruth’s decision seems strange to those of us who live in a society in which the far margin of fidelity to family extends no further than our relationship to our parents, siblings, or spouse. I suspect most of us haven’t had nearly as close a relationship with our in-laws as Ruth did, or as we wish we had.  But Ruth’s desire to stay with her mother-in-law is unshakable. Like a true friend who you can count on when the going gets tough, Ruth refuses to leave her mother-in-law in her time of great need. The words which are so well known in this story of  the Hebrew Scriptures come at the end of today’s passage. Where you go, I will go; where you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God my God.”

It’s evident in this story that Ruth and Naomi are both tenacious. Consider the resilience Naomi had- willing to make the long trip by herself. This isn’t to say she wouldn’t want companionship, but she wants her  daughters-in-law to have  a better life. She’s convinced that they will have an easier life if they stay where they are, stay where they know their surroundings, stay where their extended family are and where they have the most likelihood of remarrying.

Do Naomi’s personal experiences may resonate with you. Have you, like Naomi, lost a spouse, a significant other, or a close friend? Have you felt, as Naomi did, anxiety or fear at the prospect of dealing with a change of circumstance or an alteration of what you have become accustomed to? Have you experienced troubling feelings stemming from abandonment of another type, perhaps on the job you have—not getting the promotion you expected, not being rewarded or appreciated for your job performance? Have you been treated unjustly or spitefully by someone who was jealous or envious of you, at work or in your life outside of work?

I get the impression, despite what she said about her situation, that Naomi is a person of great faith. She is willing to set out for Bethlehem by herself, without the protection that so many other women of her age and even much younger would want to have. What about Ruth? Just why did she go? It’s possible that she might have sensed that her destiny was someone intertwined with Naomi’s. Perhaps she offered to go sensing that she had much to learn from her wise mother-in-law. Another possibility, one which seems most plausible, is that Ruth saw Naomi’s need and responded instinctively and sincerely. In Ruth’s courageous display of concern for the needs of her mother-in-law, we see reflected the wisdom inherent in today’s passage from Mark, in which Jesus is asked about what the greatest commandment is. The response recorded is almost word for word what we find in the other gospels, around this same question. “You shall love the Lord your God, with all your heart, all your soul, all your mind, and all your strength. And the second commandment is this : ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”

These words of Jesus echo another clarion command: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” This is what we have enshrined as  The Golden Rule. And the emphasis in the rule is on the other. God wants us to finally get it—the secret of life is not about me or I, it’s about living with our neighbors in mind, for to do so is to honor God and to actualize Jesus’ teachings.

There are  many contemporary points of connection to this Golden Rule, which Ruth exemplified in her support of  Naomi. One which comes to mind is the hurricane which devastated New York City and the New Jersey coast this past week. In times of disaster, we suddenly seem so concerned about our neighbor, but why is it that we so often wait for a disaster before we recognize and acknowledge our common humanity? I’ve thought this week of the rivalry between fans of Boston sports teams and those of New York. And I realize, in these times of great need, how superficial, petty, and unimportant such rivalries are. How about you?

We have a presidential and senatorial election in 2 days, and I’m struck by the enormous divide between what Jesus preached about and the rancorous and divisive presidential campaign which we have all been witness for the past several months; a campaign in which Republican and Democratic leaders continue to profess belief that the enactment of their ideas into law is the only way out of our current economic and social problems. I often wonder what would Jesus say in the face of so many politicians who believe that their side is all right and the other side is all wrong.

Do you strongly believe, as do I, that a fundamental contributing factor accounting for the global economic crisis we face is because we haven’t put neighbor first? There is still hope for we humans; we see evidence of such hope in the massive outpouring of response to help victims of the hurricane; a response which is proof of  the desire we have as creatures made in God’s image to respond to the pressing needs of our neighbor. When we reach out with compassion to our neighbors we experience a transformational joy which takes the high value we place on individualism in our culture and a “what’s in for me” mentality and exposes it for what it is- false, specious, superficial, egotistical, selfish. Those who have taken time to reflect on this dynamic discover that the focus on the self cannot, no matter how far and wide we seek it, bring us the level of contentment we yearn for deep in our souls. In today’s reading from the gospel of Mark, Jesus, responding to the scribe who understood the wisdom inherent in these two greatest commandments, clearly alluded to the connection between living out of the commandments and the unfolding of God’s Kingdom.

My sister Heather lives in Los Angeles and is a prolific writer around Christianity and culture. She maintains and active blog on her website where she regularly shares her reflections about life and the inherent struggle involved in living out the two great commandments.

Heather recently took a trip to a retreat center in Arizona and on her blog she shared some reflections she saw in one of the rooms at the retreat center. These words, which are attributed to Mother Teresa, remind us of the importance of  following God’s ways above all else-- despite how we have been treated, despite the bad breaks we’ve experienced, despite the difference between how we thought life would turn out for us and how it actually has. Here are the words from that retreat center in Arizona:

"People are often unreasonable, illogical, and self-centered; forgive them anyway.
 If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives; be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends, and some true enemies; be successful anyway.
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you; be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight; build anyway.
If you find serenity and happiness, others may be jealous; be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will forget tomorrow; do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough; give your best anyway.
For you see, in the final analysis, it is between you and God; it was never between you and them anyway." [* Note: the passage was apparently written around 1968 by Kent M. Keith, at the time a 19-year-old Harvard student]: 

Like Naomi and Ruth, many of us have discovered that life is unpredictable and it often turns out differently than we had hoped for. We can lose something very dear to us and then be faced with a future which is uncharted, challenging, and uncertain. Just ask the victims of the recent hurricane, some of whom have lost all their worldly possessions. It can be overwhelming to work so hard and to see such destruction. It takes a lot of faith to not lose faith in such times.

But the good news of Jesus Christ is that life does have a purpose, life does have meaning. Like Ruth and Naomi, we are reminded that life is like a pilgrimage and there is some pretty challenging terrain to traverse along the way. As we continue our pilgrimage, let us remember to follow Jesus’ wise teachings. Let us befriend one another and let us support our neighbors both near and far.

Like our ancestors who set off from far off lands, but who had faith that God would lead, let us do the same, despite how uncertain and unpredictable the future may seem to us at this moment. Let us continually pray to God for strength and guidance along the way. Let us renew our commitment, each one of us, no matter our past and no matter what confronts us, to the vision which other sojourners of our faith have maintained in difficult times, and declare anew:  “Wherever God calls, I will follow.”        

AMEN


MULTI-TALENTED ROSCOE
LITTLE-KNOWN FACT: HE IS ALSO SUPER FUNNY! 

4 comments:

  1. That's so wonderful. And may I take these words to heart, and not merely admire the way the words sound! It is, to use an oft-used word, a challenge. Beyond that, it's an imperative.

    One of the ways I've failed my neighbor in the immediate aftermath of Tuesday's plebiscite is through a lack of civility, a lack of kindness, and an inability to see how people could have arrived at a different conclusion from my own!

    Your brother here points the way to something better. As did Cardinal Dolan in his congratulatory letter to the President (indicating clearly that the Church would not submit to every idea of the President's [especially those ideas that would involve collaboration with evil], but nonetheless offering co-operation where that is both possible and desirable).

    All best wishes to your brother and your nephew. (I'm suppressing the urge to say, "God save the Kings!")

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  2. Best way to start my Sunday. Read this blog. thank you Heather and Ross!

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  3. Such a beautiful, thoughtful sermon. Great way to start a Sunday morning. Yeah, the first great commandment is relatively easy--love God. The second, to love your neighbor--gosh, really? Do we have to? Nevertheless, it's my goal.

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  4. Brilliant! Thank you, Ross and Heather for sharing it.

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