YOUR PEOPLE SHALL BE MY PEOPLE
A sermon by Rev. Richard Miller, Minister of Trinity United Church, Montreal, QC. November 5, 2006. Ruth 1:1-18.
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! 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—there will I be buried.
– Ruth 1:16-17a
“Your people shall be my people,” said Ruth to her mother-in-law. What a wonderful sentiment, and it is the basis for some of our own views of marriage, so let us get the background. The story goes back in Hebrew Scriptures to the earliest historical times of the people of Israel – to the time of the Judges not long after the Exodus and Conquest. It is about a time of famine in the land, and a man who took his wife Naomi and their two sons and went into the country of Moab where there was food available. They ended up staying there, and their two sons married women from that country. Some time later the man died, and still later the two sons also died, leaving Naomi and her two daughters-in-law – Orpah and Ruth.
After a while, Naomi learned that the famine was over in her own country and there was food available, so she set out to return there. But she told Orpah and Ruth to go back to their mothers’ houses, and asked God to deal kindly with them as they had with her. The two daughters-in-law protested, but Naomi was firm; so Orpah kissed her and did as she asked. But Ruth clung to her, and declared,
Do not press me to leave you or to turn back from following you! 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—there will I be buried. (Ruth 1:16-17a)
And so when Naomi saw that Ruth was determined to go with her, she stopped trying send her away. The story has a happy ending for Ruth, who later met Naomi’s kinsman Boaz and eventually married him. And their son Obed became the father of Jesse, who became the father of King David. [And so, the grandmother of the great king of ancient Israel was not a Hebrew but a woman from a foreign land.]
You and I live in a world where we need more stories like the one of Naomi and Ruth. You and I live in a place where we need more people who say, “Your people shall be my people.” You and I live in a time when we need more people who are prepared to cross the great divides that exist, and embrace one another, and say, “Your people shall be my people” – and mean it.
Instead we live in a time when in the very region where Naomi and Ruth had lived, people are at war with their neighbours – and with their relatives. You and I live in a time when our young people are shipped to Afghanistan to be “peacekeepers,” while right here in Montreal someone can walk into a community college and fire off an assault rifle, killing a young woman – and then himself. You and I live in a place where all too often people cannot even get along with their neighbours, or for that matter the people they sit in church with.
Where are Ruth and Naomi when you need them? Where are people who will open their arms and greet and embrace one another across the barriers and barricades between peoples of different religions, different cultures, different ethnicities. Where the ones who will say, “Your people shall be my people”? Pray God to show us where such people are, for we need them badly. We need them desperately. We need those who will take the risk of reaching out and welcoming. And we need them on both sides of the divides that exist. For when these divides exist – as they do, then we are all losers. We are all diminished. We are all left isolated and ghettoized.
Yes, my friends, on this Remembrance Day Sunday when we remember and honour those who have given their lives in war so that we may live in safety, we need more and more people who will build inclusive community in this country and around the world, so that it is not necessary to keep going to war. We need people who will say, “Your people shall be my people,” and not mean “your people shall become like my people – or else.”
One thing that should be evident to us all is that the rules of war have changed. If there is one thing that we should have learned from 9-11, it is that we can no longer depend on war being fought somewhere else – around the world, on someone else’s soil. All it took was two airliners to bring down two very large commercial buildings – and the world was changed for you and me. And since Viet Nam, we have been seeing that it is not so simple to fight wars over there somewhere either. For one thing, you can watch your relatives and neighbours being killed on television. And it has become clear that no one fights so determinedly as those who are protecting their own land and way of life.
So what to do? Friends, if we cannot find ways to build community where all are on the inside, then the outlook is bleak. Does anyone remember the Pogo cartoons? Quite some time ago in a Pogo cartoon one of the characters said, “We have met the enemy, and he is us.” (pause) Pray God that it not be so. Pray God that we can work with other people of good will around the world to build a world where love can live, a world where there are no more 9-11’s, a world where all can live together in peace – regardless of race, ethnicity, culture, language, national origin, gender, sexual orientation – whatever. Pray to God for such a world, and then work with God to keep creating such a world. Begin at home, but do not stop there.
There is a story – I may have told it before – it is a story about two paintings of heaven and hell. At first glance the paintings were identical. In each one there was a huge banquet table, laden with all the good things that anyone could ever want to eat. But when you looked more closely, you saw that the people in hell were hungry and miserable, while the people in heaven were well fed and happy. In both paintings, each person had six-foot long forks attached to their arms. And the people in hell would maneuver the forks until they had some food on them, but then they couldn’t get it back to their mouths. (pause) The people in heaven fed one another. (pause)
Will you and I reach out to one another – and to others -- across barriers, and build community? Will we feed one another? Or will we all starve? On Remembrance Day Sunday – and every day, these are questions we all must face. Amen.