“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 story of Ruth begins like the story of so many other people, who find themselves displaced, adrift, at a loss, through no fault of their own. “In the days when Barack Obama was President, there was a hurricane named Sandy, a tropical storm named Irene, and they were left without power or heat, their homes were swept away, they lost everything they had.”
It’s a story repeated over and over again, in our country and around the world. “In the days when Bashir el Asad was President, a civil war arose in Syria, and thousands of refugees fled their country to Jordan, to Turkey, taking with them their families and the few belongings they could carry.” “In the days when Peter Shumlin was Governor, Louise could no longer take care of herself or stay in her own home, and so she moved to a community care home, all the while longing to go back to her ‘own’ home.” “In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the word of God came to John son of Zechariah in the wilderness.”
Over and over, set against the background of rulers and people in power who come and go, the lives of the children of God go on, up against the forces of nature, up against the natural processes of aging and disability, up against the powers and principalities that seem to sweep all the “little ones” up in their path. “Do not put your trust in princes,” warns the psalmist,” in mortals, in whom there is no help. When their breath departs, they return to the earth; on that very day, their plans perish.”
However, the psalmist goes on to say, “Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who is making heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them; who is keeping faith forever; who executes, who is making, justice for the oppressed; who gives food to the hungry.” The God who is still creating the heavens and the earth is at the same time the One who is executing justice for the oppressed, who is lifting up those who are bowed down. “God watches over the strangers; upholds the orphan and the widow.”
In all these stories of displacement and hopelessness, there is a glimmer of hope, a hint of what is at work beneath the surface. “There was a certain man from Bethlehem of Judah….” Ruth travels with her mother-in-law back to Bethlehem, where she ends up marrying Naomi’s kinsman, Boaz, and becomes one of the grandmothers of David and thus of Jesus. In the midst of the devastation along the east coast, there are countless acts of courage and kindness, as people help one another and as engineers and reconstruction teams bring knowledge, ingenuity, and skill to the rebuilding and re-visioning process. The reality of rising sea levels due to climate change becomes an unavoidable fact, perhaps alerting us to take a serious look at how we might be contributing to it and how we might do things differently. Families find new families and allies that support and assist them in taking care of loved ones, and we all realize how dependent we actually are on one another.
In the kingdom of God, Jesus said,– if God truly were ruler of the nations, of the world– the hungry would be fed, the homeless housed, the widows and orphans taken care of, the prisoners set free, those who are bowed down would be lifted up, the eyes of the blind would be opened, the refugees and sojourners would find a home. But the kingdom, or the reign, of God is not just some future time, Jesus said. It’s coming and now is, he said. You are to live in that realm as well, feeding the hungry, taking care of the widows and orphans, finding homes for the strangers and aliens in your midst, executing justice. You are to be-friend the friendless. You are to stand with those who are going through troubles.
You can trust us to stick to you through thick and thin–to the bitter end. [said his friends to Frodo, the Hobbit in JRR Tolkein’s Fellowship of the Ring] And you can trust us to keep any secret of yours–closer than you yourself keep it. But you cannot trust us to let you face trouble alone, and go off without a word. We are your friends, Frodo. Anyway: there it is.”
“I have called you my friends,” Jesus said to his followers. Can we not be as good a friend
as Hobbits to the least of Jesus’ brothers and sisters, whom he said were his surrogates? “Whatever you have done to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you have done to me.”
“Do not put your trust in princes,” the psalmist said, but the reign of God is not only coming but now is. Regardless of who wins the elections on Tuesday, we are called as friends of Jesus to look out for the widow and orphan, the powerless, the sick, the homeless, and so to be concerned about how we as a community and a nation choose to live together. The personal is political for so many of us, particularly for those who through no fault of their own find themselves in need. God is executing justice for the oppressed, as the psalmist says, God is “powerfully partisan,” as one Biblical scholar writes, (Texts for Preaching, Year B, p. 570) and we are to align ourselves with that ongoing process.
“I vote because I am a citizen,” writes the Rev. James Moos, Executive Minister of the UCC Wider Church Ministries and Co-executive for Global Ministries, in a press release entitled, “Our Faith, Our Vote, God’s World”–
I vote because I am a citizen. Yes, I am a citizen of the Untied States and I take civic responsibilities seriously. More importantly, however, I am a citizen of
God’s realm; as such I am called to live out my faith in the public arena. This means casting my vote not out of economic self-interest, but for the sake of all of God’s people and all of creation, and especially on behalf of the vulnerable and powerless.
I vote because of a little Palestinian girl named Siham in East Jerusalem who my wife and I sponsor through Global Ministries’ Child sponsorship program. Siham’s future and the prospects for peace in the Middle East will be deeply impacted by U.S. foreign policy. Siham cannot hold our nations’ leadership accountable, but we can.
I vote because I live in Cleveland, OH, a city where 44 out of every 100 adults over the age of 16 lack basic literacy skills. They cannot read a bus schedule, or write a letter explaining a credit card billing error. Through elections we both demand better educational systems and we support them.
I vote because 15% of households in the wealthiest country on earth lack food security. At some point in the past year, they had insufficient nutritional food to lead healthy, active lives. While private generosity is good and necessary in addressing these needs, the structural inequities that underlie them are a matter of public policy.
because, as a former military chaplain, I know all too well the grief and trauma inflicted upon the innocent and suffered by veterans and their families during unjust and seemingly never-ending wars. On Nov. 6thwe will choose the next Commander-in-Chief.
I vote because the first eight months of 2012 were hottest on record. South Pacific islanders are being swamped by rising sea levels due to global warming. The legislators we choose will decide on whether we take bold action, or continue on the path of environmental catastrophe.
I vote because nearly 50 million Americans lack health insurance, some of them are close friends and family members. Access to quality health care is not a privilege, it is a human right. The future of that access will be determined on Election Day.
I vote because I affirm marriage equality. In the land where the constitution guarantees equal protection to all citizens, same gender loving people are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of marriage. Elected officials and ballot measures are keys to attaining and maintaining marriage equality.
I vote because while faith is intensely personal, it is never purely private. In his “Letter from a Birmingham Jail,” Martin Luther King chastised this contemporaries who were ‘….more cautious than courageous and have remained silent behind the anesthetizing security of stained glass windows.’ Faith that is nurtured in the church must be boldly lived out in the world. In a democracy, the ballot box is one place for us to live out that faith. Please join me in voting.”
“Do not put your trust in princes…Happy are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God, who is making heaven and earth, who is executing justice and lifting up those who are bowed down.” Because God’s reign is coming and now is, we who are Friends of Jesus (FOJ?) know that we are bound together with all God’s children, both here and around the world. We know that God sets a welcome table for all people who would come to it, and so we come to this table this morning, affirming that we are One Body in Christ Jesus. We are fed and nourished, that we too might become food and drink for a hungry and thirsty world. In faith, in hope, in courage, then, let us keep the feast. Amen, and amen.
Rev. Mary H. Lee-Clark