Scripture - Ruth 1:1-18; Mark 12:28-34
Ruth 1:1-18, New Revised Standard Version
1 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. 2 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. 3 But Elimelech, the husband of Naomi, died, and she was left with her two sons. 4 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, 5 both Mahlon and Chilion also died, so that the woman was left without her two sons and her husband.
6 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. 7 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. 8 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. 9 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. 10 They said to her, “No, we will return with you to your people.” 11 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? 12 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, 13 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.” 14 Then they wept aloud again. Orpah kissed her mother-in-law, but Ruth clung to her.
15 So she said, “See, your sister-in-law has gone back to her people and to her gods; return after your sister-in-law.” 16 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!”
18 When Naomi saw that she was determined to go with her, she said no more to her.
Mark 12:28-34, New Revised Standard Version
28 One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” 29 Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; 30 you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” 32 Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; 33 and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” 34 When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
I love the pairing of these two passages together - and I think they work so well to talk about All Saint’s Day - and I think it’s neat that we’re talking about saints on Halloween, where kids - and maybe adults - get to dress up as somebody different. A lot of times we dress up as people or characters we admire or want to emulate. With kids it’s a chance to be a hero for a night - or something or somebody really special. There’s a magic about taking on a different persona, even if it’s just for an evening.
When I was a kid, I didn’t really have any heroes. If you were to ask 10-year old me, “Melissa, who is your hero?” I’d shrug and have no idea what to tell you. I didn’t look up to any athletes -- which in retrospect might have been a good thing. I didn’t admire comic book characters or Disney princesses -- again, that might have been a good thing. The stories of famous men and women I might have found inspiring, but again, I wouldn’t have called any of them my heroes. Maybe it was because all those people were so distant and untouchable, and I didn’t connect their stories to my own life.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve discovered that I do, in fact, have heroes, but they aren’t famous or athletic and they aren’t made up in some fantasy tale. My heroes are the people who have shown me what it means to live life well - grandmothers and grandfathers, parents, old church ladies and children, community organizers and farmers and authors and friends. Some of these heroes are no longer with us...many of them are. Many of these people I know well...and some of them I have never met. Each, however, has had an impact on my life - how I live out my faith or has given me a glimpse of the person that I want to become. Sometimes that relationship lasted over years, and sometimes it was only for a season.
We in the church have a special word for these kind of heroes -- saints. Saints nowadays typically refer to those who have passed on before us, but in the early church -- every follower of Christ was considered a saint -- and if you read the New Testament, the letters are full of references to “the saints” - “the saints in Jerusalem” or “the saints living at Lydda” or as we find here in our reading from Ephesians - “The gifts he gave were...to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ.”
The saints -- are the body of Christ. Every Christian is a saint...and every Christian is called to be a saint. And every one of us has people who has acted like a saint for us (Christian or not) at different times of our lives - whether that person was an author whose writing impacted you in a profound way and changed your perspective on something, whether that person was a community member you admired and wanted to emulate, whether that person was a family member who always took time for you, or whether that person was a dear friend who walked with you in a difficult season of your life.
We talked about the story of Ruth earlier this summer, when we did our summer worship series on asking questions for transformative community - exploring the final question “where do we go from here?” We explored how committed Ruth was to her mother-in-law Naomi, so much so that she left her homeland, her people, her religion - everything - to be with her. What we don’t often realize, though, in this story is that Naomi has lost everything as well - her husband, her two sons - and while Ruth is young enough to reestablish herself, she chooses Naomi, and stays by her side - and is a reminder to Naomi that she is not alone, that she is worth companioning, that she is worthy even in a culture that would have deemed her worthless because of her circumstances.
There’s a beauty in the relationship between these two women that is life-saving - for both of them. It is the very embodiment of what Jesus is talking about in the Mark passage - “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ 31 The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
The church is called to be this kind of community for people. To be a community of saints - not ultra perfect in our piety, not distant and shiny, but down-in-the-dirt, I-go-where-you-go, your-pain-is-my-pain, life-is-messy-and-beautiful kind of saints. The kind of community where when life and death is on the line - metaphorically and literally - we know who we can count on - we count on Christ as Christ shows up in each other in those moments of hardship, in those moments of joy and beauty, in those moments of tender grief, in those moments of fierce love.
I love this quote from Alok Vaid-Menon, who is a gender non-conforming author and performance artist. They shared these words about the world they envision about how people can relate to one another:
i want a world where friendship is appreciated as a form of romance. i want a world where when people ask if we are seeing anyone we can list the names of all our best friends and no one will bat an eyelid. i want monuments and holidays and certificates and ceremonies to commemorate friendship. i want a world that doesn’t require us to be in a sexual/romantic partnership to be seen as mature (let alone complete). i want a movement that fights for all forms of relationships, not just the sexual ones. i want thousands of songs and movies and poems about the intimacy between friends. i want a world where our worth isn’t linked to our desirability, our security to our monogamy, our family to our biology.
To me, this is a beautiful vision of what the church can be - of what the saints can be - of who we can be together and how we can live out Jesus’s invitation to love God with all of who we are and to love our neighbor in the same way. To be that kind of community bound together - as we look for how Christ was embodied to us in the saints of the old - and in the saints of the not-so-old -- as we look for how Christ is embodied for us in the here and now -- and as we look for how Christ will be embodied for generations yet to come. (Spoiler alert...we get to do that - we’re the saints that our children will one day speak of).
We’ll have an opportunity to name those saints in our Communion Liturgy later - but I invite us to take the time to bring to mind a person - or persons - who were saints to you. Perhaps they are from your childhood, or maybe a mentor later in life, or someone who you wish could be that voice of wisdom for you now...maybe someone who represented joy and perseverance or resilience and peace. Bring those folks to mind….and hold them in your heart as we light these candles of comfort and compassion.
Pastor Melissa Yosua-Davis has been serving the community of Chebeague and its church since July 2015. She currently lives on the island with her husband and five year old son and 2 year old daughter, along with their yellow lab. Read here recent sermon excerpts, thoughts on life and faith, and current announcements for the church community. She also blogs at Going on to Perfection.