November 11, 2018

2018 Nov11

Proper 27 - Year C

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

Today’s readings are about sacrifice:

  • Of Ruth’s child.
  • Of Jesus Christ.
  • Of the Widow’s Mite.

The Psalm makes a reference to a warrior. Today is Veterans Day, so warriors and sacrifice seem a natural pair, even though Ruth’s story and the Widow’s Mite may not evoke the honoring of the brave women and men who have served in the military.

 

Veterans Day is the day on which we honor those who have served in the United States Armed Forces. It was formerly Armistice Day which marked the anniversary of the end of World War I at the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918. Exactly 100 years ago today, the Armistice with Germany went into effect. It is Memorial Day when we in the US remember those who have died in service to their country. Other Western Allied countries do that today, on Armistice Day or Remembrance Day.


There is no obvious parallel between Veterans Day and today’s readings. However, the concept of sacrifice is woven through the readings. Sacrificial service to a nation can be found in Ruth. Sacrificial service to God is illustrated by the Widow in the Gospel who gave what little she had to the Treasury of the Temple.


Scholars are split on Ruth’s role as a feminist. Some see her as an example of how women in the Bible once again are instrumental in fulfilling God’s plans. Others see her as being a mere pawn in the game of a manipulative woman, Naomi, to fulfill the plans of men. What we do know about Ruth is that she was a foreign woman who married into an Israelite family and bore a child who would become the grandfather of Israel’s greatest King, David.


In the Old Testament, nationhood is important to Israel and part of their identity. What is done to one is done to the nation; what is accomplished by one is accomplished for the nation. Ruth, a foreigner, had a son, who was became a citizen of the Nation of Israel by his birth. What is overlooked by many readers of the Book of Ruth is that Naomi’s adoption – for lack of a better term – of Obed was Ruth’s sacrifice which eventually led to the greatness of Israel as a nation under King David. “The Lord made Ruth conceive, and she bore a son.” Then “The women of the neighborhood said ‘A son has been born to Naomi.’” In this short book, it is critical that we remember Ruth’s sacrifice to God and nation.


The Widow’s Mite has been helpful in fundraising campaigns, stewardship drives, and other ways of inducing guilt upon listeners. The sacrificing of what little money she had is a message to the wealthy and powerful that service to God is sacrificial, not self-promoting.

Mark in his Gospel often uses women as role models, instead of men, of the behavior of true disciples. The Old Testament has several prominent women, but their achievements and devotion to God are often overshadowed by the prior or subsequent accomplishments of men in the stories.


Women and their role
throughout history in
serving nations.


I discovered this week that there is a Women’s Memorial in Washington DC. The Women In Military Service For America Memorial (Women’s Memorial) is the only major national memorial honoring all women who have defended America throughout history. It is a recognition of their devoted patriotism and bravery as an integral part of our national heritage. It wasn’t approved by Congress until 1985, and opened 12 years later in 1997. Yet, women have been serving this country since the Revolutionary War.


Then, women joined their husbands in the Continental Army, doing the domestic tasks of washing, cooking, mending clothes, and providing some medical help. But like anyone near the battle lines, they were often thrust into battle. In the Revolutionary War and the Civil War, women disguised themselves as men in order to serve their country. Women were only formally admitted into the Armed Forces during World War 2. Now, women and men serve in the US Armed Forces side-by-side, even as Navy Seals, 4-Star Generals, and Combatant Commanders.


Whether man or woman, with service comes sacrifice. Our stories parallel present-day life in the mix of choice and conscription. The Widow certainly chose her sacrifice as she gave all she had to God. But it is uncertain whether or not Ruth really served Naomi and the Israelites willingly. Certainly, the sacrifice of her son being taken from her was not of her will, but of the desires of Naomi.

This Veteran’s Day, the nation will honor those who have served. Some of you are sitting in these very pews. Thank you for your service to our country. And thank you for your devotion to Jesus and your worship as a part of the St Stephen’s Family.


Thursday was Veterans Day at the Farmers’ Market. That was San Luis Obispo’s major Veteran’s Day observance. Here at St Stephen’s today, we will observe a 2-min silence at the end of the Prayers of the People, an observance that Congress formally suggested in 2016. It is an observation that is marked across Europe at 11am. Congress has suggested the 2-min silence be observed across the US at the same time. For us in California, it is at 11:11am. However, we will observe it at the end of the Prayers.


These rituals and observances are very powerfully emotional for many people. Regardless of what one thinks about war and combat – in favor of military expansion through to pacifists – we all know someone who has served. The silence gives us an opportunity to remember those we know who have served, but also the opportunity to honor other types of service to God and Country, as we heard in Ruth and the Gospel. It is also an opportunity to pray for peace and for an end to conflict between peoples and nations.


Some of the honoring of Veterans that we do as Americans baffles my friends across The Pond. Many stores and restaurants have a Veteran’s discount. The oddest one is that we often applaud uniformed officers as they board an airplane.


Jesus’ sacrifice was the ultimate one in the life and theology of the Jews. As I mentioned last week, and as we explicitly and implicitly reference in the Eucharist, the Crucifixion was the one full, sufficient sacrifice, made once and for all. The intercessory role of the heavenly high priest, Jesus, who ‘appears in the presence of God’, supplants the ordinary Temple high priests. When we come to the Eucharist, we need to remember and understand the depth of the sacrifice that Jesus made. We publicly honor those women and men who have served our country with true and awkward reverence. Yet, we often hide our belief in Jesus’ sacrifice when we are in public.


The Widow is not the only model of behavior in the Gospel. The behavior of the scribes is a warning to us. Their service to God is insincere, and they love neither God nor their neighbors. As Christians, the choice – or guise of choice – to follow Jesus is ours. Jesus tells us over and over again that to follow Him requires true sacrifice. Yet, many of us throughout our Christian history have found ways to ensure that our sacrifice is not too uncomfortable. Jesus’ message for us in the story of the Widow’s Mite couldn’t be any more starkly opposite to our comfortable sacrifice. Jesus demands our all. I think that our Veterans can offer us a secular version of the demand of one’s all. We need to learn from the Widow and from Ruth how to give our all to God through Jesus Christ. Service and sacrifice to God and Country can come in many different forms.


In the stories of a poor old woman and young foreign widow, we find the transforming of emptiness into fullness. That was the wish 100 years ago with the War to End All Wars. But it didn’t.

  • There has been a lot of sacrifice by millions of people – the War Dead, Veterans and Civilians alike – and we have a long way to go to achieve peace.
  • We also have a long way to go to achieve the degree of devotion to God that we witness in the lives of Ruth and the Widow.
  • But Jesus – as we are reminded in Hebrews – was the holy sacrifice to end all sacrifices.

“Sacrifice” translates from its Latin roots to “holy offering”. Let us give thanks to those who made holy offerings for our country and for our faith. Let us give thanks – let us make our Eucharist – that Christ’s sacrifice will bring us everlasting peace.

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