Monday, November 02, 2009

Homeless and homeward bound

Ruth 1: 1-18; Mark 12: 28-34
******** United Church of Christ
November 1, 2009 – All Saints Sunday

Ever since there have been wars and natural disasters, there have been refugees, that is, people forced from their homes seeking refuge. One statistic of the Iraq war we don’t hear much of is the number of refugees, both internally and externally displaced. The pre-war population of Iraq was 25 million. To date, over 4.5 million Iraqis—almost one-fifth of the population—have been forced from their homes; over 2 million Iraqis have left the country. Syria, Lebanon, Jordan and Sweden, amongst many other countries, have taken in more refugees than they can handle, regardless of the fact that they have had no responsibility in the cause of this crisis. No more than 25,000 refugees have been referred to the United States in the past five years; only 7,000 have been admitted.

Because of these statistics and more, the United Church of Christ is resolved to provide funding and resources for the work necessary to care for these displaced persons and for those serving in the military and their families, and to call for an end to this war.

Even now in New Haven, five Iraqi families have been resettled through the auspices of the Integrated Refugee and Immigrant Services, an affiliate of Church World Service. The goal is to supplement rent payments for 6 to 12 months until families can get on their feet again. Even though the cost is higher, all families are placed in small modest apartments in safe neighborhoods with decent schools so they can transition more easily into this strange new life. Donations of furniture, clothing and money are still needed to help other refugee families in New Haven, so letters are then sent to regional ministers like Mike Penn-Strah, so that local UCC churches can help where they can. Our gifts to One Great Hour of Sharing are one source of support for refugee services that give caring and hope.

Iraqi refugee family hosted by First Congregational Church, Brookfield, CT
In this morning’s reading from the Hebrew scriptures, Naomi and her two daughters-in-law have no support or caring or hope except for each other. All three of them are refugees from their homelands—Naomi from her native town of Bethlehem in Judah; Orpah and Ruth from the country of Moab. Naomi had originally left because of a famine and settled with her family in Moab. Now she and her daughters-in-law are all widows and have started to return to Judah, but really none of them has a home. Without husbands to care for them, they are homeless and without worth. They have nothing but the mercy of God upon which to rely.

It is thought that the book of Ruth was written either during the exile or after the exile, when the people of God as yet had not rebuilt the Jerusalem temple, thereby having no home themselves. Ever since God called Abraham out of Ur to the land of Canaan, to Jacob moving his family to Egypt, to Moses leading the Israelites in the desert, God’s people have been nomads. Can we really wonder then why today the land of Israel is so important to Jews? And yet in this morning’s reading we see a tension between returning home and forsaking it for something more; the same tension in any kind of transition.

Orpah, after first refusing to return home, does as a good daughter-in-law should and obeys Naomi by going back to the land of her birth. How many of us would do the same? We go back to what is familiar. How many of you are native to Connecticut? To Milford or a nearby town? Imagine what it would take to force you from your home. Loyalty to a country or town or place gives us a sense of security and identity, of being rooted and grounded.

Ruth and Naomi, He Qi, 2001.

But Ruth’s loyalty is a virtue that has the power to transform us into faithful, trustworthy individuals and a community of friends and true family. “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.”

In this life of faith we are all refugees, sojourning through this world on our way to our one true home which is there for us at any time. Jesus tells us that the greatest commandments are to do with love, the ultimate loyalty to God and to our neighbor. You know this every time you serve dinner to a homeless person and eat with them here in this home. You know this when you pray for each other, when you fill out a pledge card, when you serve as a church leader, when you teach Sunday School, when you give to a mission offering, bring food for the food pantry, or provide for coffee hour.

Home is not a place but what we do and who we are as God’s people wherever we are. Theologian Marcus Borg wrote that “…beliefs do not save us, do not transform us. Trust and loyalty do. This…is the primary meaning of faith…the purpose of Christian life…the vision at the heart of a transformation-centered Christianity”. Trust and loyalty to God, trust and loyalty to our neighbor: this is what transforms us; this is our one true home. Amen.

1 comment:

Jan said...

Thanks, Cynthia. Pictures are very good. And I always like Marcus Borg--good quote of his.